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Houston Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

Transfer-on-death deeds for real estate

Estate plans often use complex trusts to avoid probate, but avoiding probate doesn't always have to be complicated. For example, one way to have real estate avoid probate is sometimes to simply name a beneficiary to a transfer-on-death deed.

A transfer-on-death deed designates a beneficiary. Upon the death of the owner of the property, ownership passes to the beneficiary named in the deed. Therefore, the property is not legally part of the deceased person's estate when it goes through the probate process.

Duties of an estate administrator

When people pass away, all their assets and liabilities become known as the person's estate. Someone has to be in charge of settling the estate's affairs and transferring assets to the heirs and beneficiaries. Under Texas law, this person is known as the executor or estate administrator.

Generally speaking, an executor is a person who is appointed in the will of the deceased. An estate administrator is someone who is appointed by the court. In some cases, the court decides an administrator is necessary because the person appointed in the will as the executor has died, or is unable to carry out the duties. In other cases, an administrator may be necessary because the deceased did not leave a will.

Divorce means it's time to update your estate plan

Before your divorce got fully underway, you likely knew that you would need to make many changes in life. You undoubtedly considered the arrangements you would need to make for the children, what you should fight for during property division and numerous other factors directly related to the marriage dissolution process. What you may not have as closely considered, however, is how your divorce will affect your estate plan.

If you already created an estate plan, you were wise and made the effort to take this important step. Still, any major life change can throw your already-created plans out of order, and divorce is certainly one of those changes. As a result, you may want to consider reviewing and updating your estate plan.

Mother, son dispute ownership of classic art collection

Disputes over inheritance can be very ugly. These fights can turn sibling against sibling, or even children against a parent.

A long-running case of probate litigation is unusual both for its ugliness and the beauty of the disputed assets, a collection of fine art. The case involves the widow of a man who was heir to a Greek shipping fortune and her son, who are arguing over the ownership of an extraordinary art collection.

How often should I update my estate plan?

Your will is meant to be the last statement of your intentions about how to distribute your property after you are gone. However, a lot can happen in your life after you sign your name on your finished will. If you don't update your will to reflect these changes, you may end up leaving a plan that does not reflect your wishes. In the worst cases, an out-of-date will can lead to confusion, disputes and even litigation.

When drafting a will, a good attorney will use language that can accommodate certain changes in a person's family life. However, no one can foresee all the changes that may happen in a family, and no lawyer can guess how their clients' wishes will change over the years.

Trusts are easily adaptable and powerful tools

The recent overhaul of the federal tax code has led to many unforeseen changes. One has been a change in the uses of revocable trusts, also known as living trusts in divorce.

One of the most popular reasons people set up a trust is to avoid probate. Assets held in trust are generally not considered to be part of a person's estate, and so they don't have to go through the sometimes arduous probate process. However, there are many types of trusts. Revocable trusts can go into effect during your lifetime and continue to help you manage and protect your property for many years to come.

Dispute sparks probate issues over late singer's catalog

Texans who have significant assets or properties that could be the foundation for dispute after they have died will seek to prepare for the future by addressing these probate issues beforehand. Unfortunately, even the most well-crafted estate plan can have complications when it is time for estate administration. Legal issues and disputes among heirs are common, especially when it is a famous person and blended families. While not everyone will be in the position of a prominent performer, there are lessons that can be learned to prepare for the future and avoid mistakes they might have made. If there is a need for litigation, it is even more vital to have legal help.

The late singer Tom Petty's catalog is the subject of a dispute between his daughters and his widow. Mr. Petty died in October 2017. He had named his wife - who is not the mother of his daughters - as his trustee. With that, she is required to create an entity so his catalog would be under her control. However, his daughters are also expected to have a say in the handling of the trust. The daughters are granted "equal participation."

Texas blended families have specific estate planning needs

There is no step by step guide for every estate plan in Texas or anywhere else. Since everyone's family situation is different, estate planning must reflect those differences. Some families might have significant assets and minor children. Others have a family business that requires intricate assessments as to how it will be passed along. Distribution of assets and determining beneficiaries could be complicated by internal disputes.

Regardless of the case, there are basic factors that should be part of the estate planning process. This is especially true for blended families. While having a will is critical, a blended family requires a deeper analysis as to how the testator wants his or her assets allocated and care to be given to minors. There are three factors that inevitably arise: having a legal guardianship; how to pass assets to minor children; and the division of the estate.

The terms of a trust won't always excuse breaches

As this blog has discussed on previous occasions, Texas trustees, that is, those who manage the property held in a trust, have both a lot of power and a lot of responsibility.

With considerable freedom, trustees are allowed to manage what is often a large amount of wealth; however, they are responsible to do so consistent with the best interest of those who ultimately stand to benefit from the trust.

Single adults have important estate planning needs, too

There is a misconception that estate planning is something only reserved for the wealthy and famous or those with large estates. In reality, virtually every Texas adult could benefit from having even a basic estate plan. While people with children or valuable assets understand the need for this step, it is also important for single adults too.

Single adults may not assume they really need an estate plan, but your marital status has no bearing on your need to plan well for the future and protect your interests. If you do not have a plan, you could be unnecessarily taking risks with your money and your health care. Your long-term financial well-being and your right to decide what happens to your estate are worth protecting.