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Houston Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

How would an estate become depleted by nursing care?

Millenials are the butt of many jokes, but credit must be given where credit is due-according to the AARP, they are spending an average of 21 hours a week taking care of older adults. Currently, around 10 million millenials are already serving as the caretaker for an elderly loved one, such as a parent, grandparent, in-law or other adult. Over time, more people are expected to step into this role.

Not only are they spending time taking care of their loved ones, they are also spending money. Those who are paying out of pocket are incurring costs around $7000 a year for transportation, home modifications, legal fees and medical costs. Add this to the student loans they have likely piled up and nearly stagnant wages, they are bearing the brunt of taking care of the older generation like no other generation has yet.

Timely trust modifications can avoid family disputes

Houston residents who have created their estate plans might think they have their ducks lined up, but simply creating an estate plan is not the end of the matter. It is very important to periodically review the plan to ensure that it is up to date. A lot might have changed since a trust was created or beneficiaries named, and the estate planning documents may no longer be appropriate. Things change, and so should trusts.

Just creating the trust documents might have been so daunting that reviewing it might seem even more tedious. However, since the main documents are already in place, reviewing it does not have to be a lengthy process. One can start at the table of contents, if there is one. Look at the successor trustees to determine if the appointed people are still alive or trustworthy. Do they get along with the rest of the family or do they cause conflict?

When your estate contains complex assets

One reason why many people postpone making an estate plan is that it often involves many complex components. Few Texas families are fortunate enough to have all their members getting along, and creating an estate plan may mean taking into consideration the special circumstances or needs of more than one person in your family.

However, another concern you may have in addition to dealing with complex people is dealing with complex assets. You may have a plan in place for your business, beneficiaries named on your accounts and a strategy for evenly dividing your cash, but have you considered how you will handle your jewelry, art, real estate and other complicated items?

Do my college going kids need an estate plan?

Many Houston residents may have sent off their children to college this fall and in between wondering how quickly time passes and how they are going to change the extra bedroom into a gym, they neglect to think about essential updates to their estate plan. When a child is born, parents likely update their estate plans to nominate a guardian for them in case something happened to the parents. Now that the children are older, there are a new set of issues an estate plan should consider, including how to continue financially supporting a child without letting other people take advantage of them.

One way to do this is by creating a trust. A trust can distribute one's estate over time, preventing them from using the money all at once or getting taken advantage of by someone else. Additionally, it can provide for reasonable expenditures to be covered while precluding distributions for unreasonable expenses. Assets in a trust are also protected from the decedent's creditors.

New tax laws and their effect on estate planning

Texas residents may be aware that a new tax law was signed into law at the end of 2017 and how it may affects aspects of financial planning but they may not be aware they it can play a big role in estate planning. The tax reform legislation substantially raised the estate tax exemption over previous limits, and this can impact gifting and estate planning until 2025, when the law is set to expire, and afterwards as well.

The exemption was raised to $11.18 million per person, or $23.26 million per married couple. As a result, federal estate taxes on amounts gifted to heirs during one's lifetime or amounts left to heirs upon death under those limits have been eliminated. This means that federal estate tax now exists for none but the wealthiest individuals.

We help individuals, families and businesses with estate planning

It's important to remember that a will is merely one tool available to people looking to put together an estate plan. Depending on one's specific situation, there may be other tools that should also be used to create a good plan. These other tools could include trusts and powers of attorney.

Not long ago, we discussed some of the different kinds of powers of attorney that are available to Houston residents putting together their estate plans. Each kind of power of attorney has its own purpose, and the kind chosen and the powers delegated should be customized for the principal's estate planning situation. It is sometimes a complex task to do this and to integrate the power of attorney into the principal's overall estate plan.

Executor duties series: Paying creditors and taxes

So far in our executor duties series, we have identified the first two steps an executor of an estate should take. Those were to locate and secure all assets and to consolidate all estate funds into a newly formed estate account. That brings us to the third task of an executor, which is to notify and pay all creditors of the estate, as well as file any unfiled tax returns.

Most executors have no idea what outstanding debts a decedent owed at their time of passing. As such, a requirement of every probate court is that an executor have a Notice to Creditors published once a week, for three consecutive weeks, in a general newspaper covering the county in which the decedent lived. Once this publication has run for the required amount of time, a proof of publication must be obtained from the newspaper office and filed with the probate court.

Establishing a trust for your furry companion

Have you ever used an image of your pet as your profile picture on social media? Do you include your pet in your family or holiday pictures? Does your pet travel with you on vacation? Perhaps your animal sleeps in your bed, sits on your furniture and even eats from your dishes. Certainly, your dog or cat provides you with comfort and consolation even when you are at your worst.

Even if you don't share your bed or your food with your animal, you are probably like many in Texas and across the country who consider their pets part of the family and spend a great deal of money for veterinary care, grooming, treats and special foods. Unfortunately, many animal owners fail to provide for those basic items for their pets in their estate plans.

Executor duties series: Consolidating estate funds

In the second installment of our Executor Duties series, we are going to discuss consolidating estate funds. Our first post determined that the first responsibility of the executor of an estate is to locate and secure physical assets owned by a decedent. Bank accounts, retirement accounts and other sources of funds of a deceased person are considered non-physical assets. It is also an executor's duty to locate and consolidate these. However, there is a process that must be followed in order to accomplish this task.

After a petition for probate has been filed in the proper county, a probate Judge will set a required bond amount for an executor based on the reasonably assessed value of an estate. The purpose of requiring the executor to obtain a fiduciary bond is to insure that he or she will follow through with all duties and distributions as requested in a decedent's will.

Executor duties series: Maintenance and protection of assets

The duties of an executor of a will span far and wide. Most individuals who agree to carry out these tasks when the time comes have no idea what all will be required of them. Accordingly, we are going to break it down for you step-by-step in our new series, Executor Duties.

Upon the death of a decedent, step one of an executor is to immediately locate and secure all assets. This includes real property such as houses, vehicles, boats and campers. Find and secure keys to all of them. It will be the job of the executor to make sure all of these assets are maintained in good repair and kept in a protected location to prevent theft. If assets go missing during the probate process and an executor is unable to account for them, he or she may be held personally liable.