Houston Estate Planning Law Blog

FIVE EASY TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN SETTING UP AN ESTATE PLAN

According to some attorneys, having an estate plan can be more helpful to families than just a will. For those who may not know what an estate plan is, it is a series of documents that provide, among other things, instructions regarding how your assets should be distributed upon your death. It can include a will, the assignment of power of attorney, and a living will. The combination of all of these documents will give clearer communication to your surviving family members after you’re gone.

One thing to keep in mind when establishing an estate plan is to draw up a plan regardless of your net worth. Many people think that an estate plan is unnecessary if you don’t have a lot of money or any property to distribute, but this simply isn’t true. Providing input even on a little amount of money can go a long way.

The next thing to think about is establishing a will and a living will. A will explains exactly where you want all of your assets to go when you die, where as a living will dictates any medical wishes you may have in the event that you become incapacitated.

Also, take advantage of trusts. A trust can help family members figure out how and when your assets will be distributed. They can also help reduce your estate and gift taxes and allow your heirs to avoid probate court.

The last two things to remember in estate planning have to do with communication and understanding estate tax laws. Making sure that you understand exactly how much tax will need to be paid on your estate will allow you to better communicate all intentions to your family. By planning for problems now, you may be able to avoid them after you pass away.

Source: ABC News, “Why estate planning is critical for your family,” Sept. 11, 2012

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FINANCIAL ADVICE FOR RECENT WIDOWS

As many married couples in Texas and around the world are aware, nothing could ever replace your spouse when they pass away. Especially when your spouse is the one that usually takes care of the important paperwork and finances.

In cases where there is no will, family members may become overwhelmed when it comes to sorting out the estate. But seeking the help from a financial planner or an experienced estate planner may help clear up some of the confusion associated with sudden loss.

The first piece of advice is to find out what the time frame is to file estate planning paperwork. Though losing a spouse can be traumatic and put you in a state of shock, it’s important to keep in mind that there are certain legal issues that must be dealt with right away.

The second piece of advice has to do with finances. Many households are still trying to recoup funds from the recession, and though spending money on a financial planner after the death of your spouse may not seem like a good idea, getting professional advice may help alleviate some of the stress and help sort out many important financial issues.

If you don’t have an estate planner, it is well advised to get one in order to help draft new estate documents. Asking your friends or financial planner for recommendations may lead you to a skilled estate planning attorney who may be able to help explain difficult legal matters that could arise after a death.

The death of a loved one is never an easy thing to deal with. Paperwork, expenses and legal paperwork only seem to complicate an already difficult situation. Having the right people to talk to and receiving advice that makes the most sense for you, may make all the difference in getting your life back to relative normal.

Source: Forbes, “Sudden Loss: Financial Advice for Widows,” Eve Kaplan, Aug. 28, 2012

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WHAT PLAN DO RETIRING FARMERS HAVE FOR THE FUTURE?

In the wake of a particularly difficult recession, many farmers in Texas and across the nation have at least two hopes for the future: retire comfortably and pass their farms on to their children.

But according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, less than 40 percent of the country’s farmers have a plan for the future of their land. And with roughly 90 percent of the country’s farms being family owned, it leaves many to wonder what the outlook will be for these farmers.

Many experts agree that having a well thought out estate plan could mean the difference between passing a farm onto future family generations to losing the farm all together. For many farmers, ensuring that a farm stays in continuous family ownerships over the years is important.

But without proper planning, many retiring farmers face the sobering reality that their farm may not pass to the next person in succession. This is alarming to many because there it then begs the question of what happens to the day-to-day operations after an owner retires, or in tragic situations, suddenly dies?

Troubling still, the USDA report points out that only 36 percent of the country’s farm owners had an estate plan to dictate what would happen to their property after they died. Several other issues that complicate things are estate taxes, which the study discovered a majority of farmers were likely to pay these taxes when transferring from one generation to the next.

Attorneys in Texas, and across the nation, suggest speaking with an estate planning expert well before retirement age in order to come up with a comprehensive succession plan, and to make sure that all financial affairs are in order before it’s too late.

Source: KEPTV.com, “Oregon farms face uncertain future as farmers retire,” Mac McLean, Sept. 14, 2012

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ESTATE PLANNING: HOW TO AVOID CONFLICTS AMONG FAMILY MEMBERS

As time goes by, thoughts typically turn to planning your estate in a manner that will keep conflict at a minimum and accomplish your goals. Texas residents wonder how to accomplish all of this without setting family members at odds with one another when it comes time to distributing assets. Several suggestions were recently offered as a general road map to keeping things peaceful.

It’s not a good idea to assume that family members will see everything the same way. Being proactive may go a long ways toward resolving festering issues before they subsequently erupt into full scale estate litigation. If that happens, you won’t be around to solve the problem, and the more you do now to address any apparent issues, the smoother things may go down the line.

As you know, it is not always possible to divide assets equally, but thought and care should go into your decisions to achieve a balanced distribution. One important aspect of being fair is keeping the lines of communication open, and family meetings may help. The more that is discussed and planned jointly, the less likely it is that disputes will come to the surface later. If there is already distrust among siblings, it may make sense to appoint an impartial third party to tend to estate administration.

In the end, the extent to which issues can be dealt with in an open and caring atmosphere, you may find that your estate planning efforts will pay off now and in the future.

Source: foxbusiness.com, “How to Avoid a Family Feud Over an Inheritance,” Sheryl Nance-Nash, Aug. 22, 2012

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