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Houston Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

Keep your estate plan up to date

Estate planning lawyers frequently tell people it is important for everyone to have a will. What they may not explain often enough is the fact that people should not think of creating an estate plan as a one-time event. Wills, trusts, powers of attorney and other estate planning documents should be revised as life situation changes.

If you have gone through a divorce, a new marriage, had a new child or started a new relationship since the last time you updated your will, it's important to make sure your estate plan reflects your current wishes and the needs of your intended heirs. Similarly, changes in the lives of your intended heirs can throw a well-crafted estate plan into confusion.

Appeals court rules against people claiming to be Prince heirs

To demonstrate the best reason to create a good estate plan, one need only look at what happens to estates after a person passes away without one. There is perhaps no better such cautionary tale today than the continuing saga of the Prince estate and the probate litigation surrounding it.

When the musician and entertainer died unexpectedly at his Minnesota home last year, he did not leave behind a valid will. This meant that a probate court would have to decide how to distribute Prince's estate, which, according to analysts, could be worth $300 million.

What is a living will?

Among other beneficiary concerns, loved ones of someone who is either ill or just getting to an advanced age may wonder what exactly they should do if their loved one is facing a difficult, and possibly life or death, medical decision and is unable to speak with doctors himself.

Fortunately, Houston, Texas, residents have a number of vehicles they can use that will make such decisions a lot easier for their loved ones to make and can also give medical providers the reassurance they need that what the family is requesting is in fact consistent with their patient's wishes.

Mediation in probate litigation

Like other types of court cases, a Texas court can, either at the suggestion of one of the parties involved or on its own, order those who are engaged in probate litigation to go through mediation. Although mediation is not appropriate for every case, it does often help families who are fighting over a will or trust come to some resolution and healing without having to undergo the time and expense of a trial.

Like all other types of mediation, the process is confidential, which means a Houston resident does not have to worry about saying something during mediation that might be used against him or her at trial. Being somewhat more informal than court, mediation also gives everyone a chance to discuss the case frankly and try to find a possible solution that leaves everyone at least reasonably happy.

Overview of the claims process in Texas estates

One of the most important part of estate administration is the reviewing and paying of claims against a deceased Houston, Texas, resident's estate. After all, very few people leave this world with owing absolutely no money to anyone, especially if they have a final doctor or hospital bill that they incurred during their last illness.

There are certain rules creditors have to follow when someone who owes them money has died and has opened an estate. Generally speaking, it is up to the court and the personal representative of the estate to make sure creditors get legally required notice that the estate has been opened, as the creditor needs the opportunity to file a claim within the time allowed by law.

Estate planning for business owners provides many benefits

One of your goals for starting your own business was certainly to make a lot of money for yourself. However, now that you have a family, your goals have likely changed. You may see your son or daughter taking over the company and continuing its success for many more generations. You may see your company becoming a household brand — a name everyone knows — and imagine people telling the story of the company's humble beginnings and forward-thinking founder.

You certainly understand that this dream can't come true without some careful planning on your part. If you become ill without having a successor trained and ready, your business may falter. If you die without an estate plan to protect your family from the devastating estate taxes your business may incur, your dream may die with you.

Non-probate property is a critical part of estate planning

Many residents of Houston own some sort of property that is either jointly held or otherwise not intended to pass through the probate process. Joint bank accounts, life insurance, stocks, retirement plans, and the like rarely go to a person's estate after the person dies. Instead, the property will pass to the named beneficiary or to the joint owners of the account.

As a previous post explained, there are also many ways in which a person can ensure that a family home or other piece of property gets handed down to the next generation without having to go through probate. All of these types of property can pass outside of the probate process even without person needing to create a trust.

The transfer on death deed

Relatively recently, the Texas Legislature gave the residents this state an additional option for transferring their home or other real estate without having to write up a will and force their beneficiaries to have to go through the probate process. This was a particularly helpful measure for those Houston, Texas residents who may own their own home but who may not have much more in the way of assets.

The way a Transfer on Death Deed works is fairly simple. If a Texas resident properly fills out and records a Transfer on Death Deed, then the person named as the beneficiary on the deed automatically receives the property. Effectively, the Transfer on Death Deed makes a piece of property work like a life insurance policy a share of stock, both of which can get passed to a loved one without a will.

Criteria for choosing a family member as fiduciary

While previous posts on this blog have mentioned that Houston, Texas, residents have the option of hiring a bank or other institution to act as a professional fiduciary, executor, or trustee, in most cases, Texans are going to rely on a close family member or friend who is like family to manage their property.

This is true whether a person is simply nominating a relative to administer their will or their trust upon their death or choosing someone to start helping them with their business affairs immediately via a power of attorney.

How do I estimate the value of the family-owned business?

A previous post on this blog discussed the important duty the executor of an estate has to value the property of the estate accurately, particularly when the person who died had a lot of wealth and may be subject to federal taxes as a result.

One of the ways Houston, Texas, residents build their wealth is through a family-owned business, and a Houston resident may die with a lot of money tied up in the value of business he or she worked hard at for many years.