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Houston Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

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.

You can't predict the future, but you may be able to plan for it

Life is often full of sudden and unexpected changes, and having a plan in place for each can be difficult at best. While you may not be able to predict when your time on earth will end, you might be able to prepare for what comes next by planning your estate, which may help ensure your wishes live on even after you are gone.

Although at a glance this process may seem straightforward, it can be somewhat challenging, especially when it involves complex assets, such as retirement accounts. However, there are numerous steps you can take that may prove beneficial to avoiding a potentially undesirable outcome.

Placing a value on an estate's property

Although sometimes not discussed as much as it really should be, one of the most important legal issues that comes up in the estate administration process is the valuation of the property of the estate. Valuation is particularly important because putting the wrong value on a piece of property can mean the estate does not get divided correctly in accord with terms of the will or Texas law, as the case may be. Poor property valuation can also create tension between heirs and beneficiaries and even lead to litigation.

Furthermore, not putting the right value on an estate can lead to trouble with federal taxing authorities, assuming of course that the person's estate is large enough to be taxed at the federal level.

What is 'breach of fiduciary duty?'

Many of the relationships that this Houston, Texas legal blog mentions frequently are what the law calls "fiduciary relationships." To elaborate, guardians, executors of estates, attorneys in fact and trustees all have a fiduciary status, meaning that they have special legal obligations to another person or group even outside of a contract or other law.

These obligations vary slightly depending on the nature of the relationship between the fiduciary and the person whom the fiduciary is supposed to protect, but they all generally boil down to the fiduciary's obligation to be unquestionably loyal to the person protected and also to take all reasonable steps to make sure the protected person's best interests are being served.

Estate planning and shielding heirs from themselves

Texans who are estate planning will have much to consider. One of the most common concerns for these individuals when planning distribution of assets to heirs is how to make certain that the heirs are not going to misuse what might be more assets than they have ever had before. Understanding various strategies to avoid this type of issue coming to pass is vital to a coherent and well-crafted estate plan that goes the way the testator wants it to go.

An IRA trust is one way to protect the heirs from themselves. In the past, these trusts were not used with any great frequency. However, in 2014, a ruling from the Supreme Court sparked more people to use the IRA trust rather than naming a specific individual. The IRA trust stops the heir from getting money immediately upon the testator's death. If this trust is not in place, the heirs can use the IRA for whatever reason they choose to - even if it likely goes against common sense and the wishes of the testator.

Famed disc jockey's daughter moves forward with will contest

Families in Texas and across the U.S. can be afflicted with the problems that come with heirs disagreeing over a loved one's will. This is especially true when it was someone who was wealthy or prominent and there are multiple people who might have an interest in the property and assets that are part of the estate. A will contest, a court battle between heirs, challenging a will and any other type of dispute related to the testator's apparent wishes can be messy and difficult, but sometimes probate litigation is necessary. Whether it is protecting one's interests when other people are trying to contest a will or contesting the will oneself, legal help is vital.

The estate of a famous disc jockey who died in late October of 2016 is part of a conflict his daughter is having in the distribution of his assets. She is seeking assistance from the public through a funding campaign to wage her fight. The woman, 54, does not know what her father's net worth was when he died. However, he had worked for more than six decades in Chicago prior to his death. He had also traveled for work and taught at a university. He owned two homes. His daughter was a consistent presence with the man as he did his work on the road.

3 considerations for naming a guardian for your kids

The love you have for your children likely outweighs any other feeling you have in life. You may have felt an immense love for your kids from the moment they were born, and that love certainly has only grown over the course of their lives. Of course, when you love another person, a sense of worry also tends to come coupled with that joyous feeling, and you undoubtedly face many concerns for your children that numerous other parents also face.

One serious issue that may leave you anxious relates to what will happen to your children in the event of your death and the death of their other parent. You certainly want your kids cared for in the best manner possible, so rather than leaving their guardianship up to chance, you may want to consider appointing a guardian in your will.

Estate planning tips for working couples without children

Texas is generally believed to be a family-oriented state and most estate plan strategies will be tailored to that fact. However, in today's world, there are an increasing number who choose not to have families even if there are two spouses who work. These people are known by the acronym of DINKs. This stands for dual income, no kids. For those who are choosing this lifestyle, there are still foundational necessities with an estate plan. There are various factors that need to be taken into consideration, especially to cater to this demographic.

Health care is a common worry. A health care directive will let the person name an agent to manage the daily finances and other matters if he or she becomes incapacitated. That can include medical decisions, caring for family members and more. It might be difficult to consider the time at which a person is incapacitated, but it is necessary to make sure all the wishes are carried out.

What estate plan strategies are useful without kids or heirs?

Not every Texan who is preparing an estate plan has children, a spouse, or other close relatives to whom they would like to leave their assets after they have passed. This is not an infrequent occurrence and there are certain strategies that can be used in such a situation. If the estate is substantial, the testator will need to take certain factors into consideration when deciding how to proceed. It is not just a matter of not having children. Many of these individuals do not have a person they trust to name as the executor if they become incapacitated.

Research indicates that a vast number of people do not have a basic will. One study stated that 64 percent of Americans did not have this done. Failure to have a will - known as dying intestate - means that the state court will determine how the assets are allocated after the person's death. In addition to property, there are other parts of estate planning that must be considered whether the person was unmarried or did not have children.