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Houston Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

Late actor's family prepares for court battle over estate

When people of significant means die in Texas or anywhere else, there is the chance that the heirs will be displeased with how the assets were distributed in the will. This is something that occurs with people who are famous and have had more than one marriage and children with multiple partners. It can be a complex issue that often results in probate litigation. Such is the case with a Hollywood performer who unexpectedly died and whose children and wife are disagreeing over his estate.

The death of the popular actor Alan Thicke has led to a dispute between his wife of 12 years and his kids. Ordinarily, issues related to a will and an estate are linked to a lack of planning on the part of the person who died. However, Mr. Thicke is believed to have had an estate plan organized before his unexpected death at age 69. He created a living trust in 1988. He and his third wife had a prenuptial agreement at the time of their marriage in 2005.

Guidance for probate issues and alternatives to probate

Probate can be a complex issue for Texans whether they have significant assets, they are middle class or have limited amounts in their portfolio. Regardless of the person's standing in society, the probate process can be confusing and difficult to navigate. This is even before getting into the possibility of there being a probate dispute.

A court battle can make any situation worse and a legal dispute can tear families apart. Since probate is often troublesome, people might be interested in considering alternatives to the process. There are several choices that can be used in lieu of probate. They include small estate affidavits, transfer on death (TOD) accounts or joint accounts, affidavits of heirship, payable on death (POD) accounts, revocable living trusts, family settlement agreement, and joint property of ownership.

Preventing family fights over your estate

Watching your family grow and change, you may feel sad when you see the tensions that exist among your children, stepchildren or other family members. Perhaps you even anticipate that, after you leave this world, those tensions may become worse, especially if your heirs squabble over your estate. While it may be tempting to leave it all to fate, doing so may result in lifelong discord among your loved ones and bitterness directed at your memory.

Each family is different, and the reasons why family members feel resentful toward each other are unique. However, there are some common instigators of disputes among heirs after someone dies.

Estate planning when there are confusing issues to navigate

A worry that aging people frequently express when considering estate planning options is how best to distribute their assets among their heirs. There are numerous factors that go into this decision and it is often connected to need vs. fairness. For example, the parents might have more than one child with one being highly successful in an endeavor and the other still struggling to find his or her way. Deciding how to divide the estate is a common source of acrimony. Fairness is in the eye of the beholder and it is beneficial for a person to have legal advice as well as practical advice when determining how to divide assets.

When an estate plan in formulated, the idea of many testators is that there be a fair allocation and any relationship between the heirs not be poisoned by ongoing battles as to who got what and whether it was justified. Grudges are a common issue if the distribution is unequal and can result in court disputes that can lead to a depletion of estate that they are fighting over to begin with. People who are planning for a future after they have gone reserve the right to do as they see fit with their assets. That said, there are certain matters that should be weighed. This can be dealt with through a meeting with family members detailing the plan.

Estate planning tips for newlyweds

The summer wedding season is just around the corner. With that, thousands of couples will pledge to share their lives together while entering a new chapter of their lives. Indeed, weddings can come with their own set of set of concerns. After all, couples may worry about how things will come together, whether notorious family members will do or say embarrassing things, and whether they will survive any wedding disasters.

With all these things to worry about, couples may not think much about estate planning.  As such, we offer the following tips for newlyweds.

Calculating fairness and equality in estate planning

Even Texans who take the necessary steps to formulate an estate plan might still sow the seeds for family disputes if the proper strategies are not implemented. Frequently, there is an issue with the division of assets and it does not have to do with their equal distribution, but their fair distribution. People who are leaving assets, property and more to their offspring will strive to be fair, however when it comes down to making the hard decision as to which child, relative or heir should receive what, more comes into the equation than just a random idea about fairness.

For example, if a person has assets that come to a certain amount of value and there are three children, the easy answer is to divide the assets between the kids. This might not be the best solution. There could be items in the portfolio - such as a farm - that one of the children does not want to be involved with. This needs to be navigated. Perhaps other assets can be traded among the children so everyone will be satisfied and there will not be discord. The same holds true for a business. A family business might have some family members heavily involved and others not playing an active role.

Why millenials should think about estate planning

The common notion of estate planning is that one needs to have significant assets or must be in their golden years. But as times change and cultures change, the traditional norms surrounding estate planning also change. Essentially, estate planning is not limited to the rich or to the elderly.

Yes, we are talking to millenials; especially those who are in (or approaching) their mid thirties this year.  

A lawyer is necessary for probate and probate litigation in Texas

Probate issues in Texas come in many different forms and all can use legal advice. In some instances, the probate process is extensive and costly. In others, it does not take particularly long and is not difficult. There is no reason to be frightened of this even if there is a probate dispute, but it is still smart to have legal help from start to finish. Knowing the different types of probate is a good place to start, but the foundation of the probate process is generally similar for everyone at its outset.

The probate process will begin with the initial application being filed and the appointment of a personal representative. Next, there are numerous issues that will be handled. The will must be filed with the court. It will be deemed as valid or invalid. When there is not a will, the court will identify the heirs of the decedent. The assets in the estate will be accounted for with the results of that accounting to be reported to the court. Creditors will be informed that the person died and they will be granted the chance to make claims against the person's estate.

Don’t navigate the estate administration process alone

Losing a loved one is one of the most stressful and traumatic experiences a person can go through. While dealing with the emotional impact, there are unfortunately a number of practical and important matters that need to be dealt with. When it comes to estate administration, having an experienced and compassionate guide is crucial to making sure the wishes of the deceased are carried out properly and without incident. If you’ve never gone through this process before, however, it is important to understand exactly what estate administration is and how it can affect you and your family.

The process of estate administration involves the court assigning someone to handle the distribution of assets after a person’s death. Any type of estate should be handled by a legal professional, but some are more in need of an experienced and educated hand. 

An effective estate plan includes regular updates

Texans who believe that time is on their side and that youth is a justification not to create wills and trusts are often caught flat-footed if something happens. Regardless of age, people need to be aware of the need to have certain documents prepared just in case of an unforeseen eventuality. Even with the newsworthy people like the musician and actor Prince who died unexpectedly and did not have a will, a vast proportion of the U.S. population still does not have a will.

Statistically, 64 percent of people over age 18 in the U.S. did not have a will in 2016. For many, a specific life event sparks the decision to move forward with documents for an estate plan. That can include getting married, having a child, getting divorced or there being a death in the family. Experience is believed to be more of a motivating factor than the simple advice to be prepared for the future. When there is not an estate plan or if the details are not clear, a death can cause significant family disputes between the heirs.