Houston Estate Planning Law Blog


Most Texas residents know the importance of a will, yet many people still don’t have one. With changing times, wills are more necessary than they ever were. Not having a will can place families and other loved ones at risk of being cut out of their inheritances or facing unnecessary time and expense to receive them.

New research shows that many people still don’t have a will. Actually, 71 percent of adults younger than 34 are without one, and some 41 percent of baby boomers also are living without a will. Many are operating under the mistaken idea that they either do not have enough assets or they believe the process of creating a will is expensive. Others may simply be suffering from procrastination.

Furthermore, domestic partnerships have increased over the last few years. Ensuring partners are included in wills can stop legal disputes and can clearly define last wishes. This step is critical for those who may be in a same-sex marriage because marriage for these couples is not enforced everywhere. Couples who have children from other relationships should also invest in a will.

Also, don’t forget about Spot. Pets can also be an important aspect of the will process. Many people think of their pets as family members, though 61 percent of Americans do not believe pets should be included in a will. Making an informal agreement to care for a pet with a friend may work, but if the relationship or plans change and the plans for the pet are not in writing, a beloved pet could wind up in a shelter or even put down.

In general, a will can typically cover most anything that happens to be important to the person creating it, at least insofar as assets are concerned. But even Texas residents with few assets can benefit from having a will in place. Doing so can ensure that one’s last wishes are followed.

Source: USA Today, “Times change wills, yet many Americans don’t have one,” Christine Dugas, April 25, 2012


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In national news, Texas residents may have heard that the Supreme Court recently ruled that two children, who were conceived through artificial insemination after their father’s death, cannot receive Social Security survivor benefits.

The Court unanimously ruled that twins born to the man’s surviving wife did not qualify for survivor benefits because the federal government is required to use state inheritance laws.

According to sources, the man’s frozen sperm was used to impregnate his wife after his death from esophageal cancer, which 18 months later, resulted in the birth of twins. The man died in a state where the law bars children conceived posthumously from inheritance. The only way to comply with this law is if the children are named in a will. In this particular case, the man had only named his wife and his other children, which existed at the time of his death.

Ultimately, the woman moved to a different state with alternative inheritance laws. Even so, when she applied for Social Security benefits for the twins, her application was rejected. According to the state’s law, the twins needed to be conceived while the father was alive.

After this ruling, a federal judge agreed that the twins had to qualify as children before the father’s death.

Next, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision, saying that the twins were the biological children of the man and therefore, they deserved survivor benefits. Even so, various other federal appellate courts have ruled the other way. This is why the issue ultimately went to the Supreme Court.

In this particular decision, the Supreme Court decided that the federal government should use state inheritance laws in making such rulings. If you have questions about the inheritance rules in Texas, you may want to speak to a qualified estate planning lawyer. He or she can fill you in on any legal technicalities, which often differ from location to location.

Source: All Voices, “Supreme Court: Twins conceived posthumously cannot receive survivor’s benefits,” Dava Castillo, May 21, 2012


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Texas Michael Jackson fans may remember when the King of Pop and Pepsi teamed up for a commercial that went horribly wrong. A technical problem ignited Jackson’s scalp on fire, resulting in second degree burns. Nevertheless, in a strange estate administration decision, his estate and the drink company have once again combined forces to use his image on special edition Pepsi cans. While it may seem like an odd pairing after a rocky history together, it could become a profitable estate administration decision; his estate stands to make a lot of money for the use of his image.

For the new deal, Pepsi will use ‘silhouette imagery’ of the pop icon on their limited edition cans. They will also sponsor contests to give fans across the world an opportunity to win Michael Jackson memorabilia.

This icon rose to superstardom once he went solo and currently has the best-selling music album in history, Thriller. Jackson passed away in 2009 at the age of 50. This new deal will likely bring in money for Michael Jackson’s estate, and it could signal the beginning of many other deals using the pop legend’s likeness. Savvy estate administration appears to be the reason for this new deal.

Ultimately, those planning their estate may want to ensure someone responsible and unbiased is in charge of administration. Although it is unlikely that most individuals will obtain the level of stardom that Michael Jackson did, it is still important for people in the public eye to maintain their image even after they pass away. Ensuring a trustworthy party is slated to oversee one’s affairs can ensure the continued prosperity of an estate.

Source: BostonHerald.com, “Michael Jackson’s estate, Pepsi team up for Bad anniversary,” Ira Kantor, May 4, 2012


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If you do not make clear arrangements for your money in a comprehensive estate plan, your loved ones may find themselves debating over assets after you pass away. For example, due to the existence of multiple wills, Gary Coleman’s ex-wife and ex-girlfriend are currently battling over the former actor’s estate.

Many Texas residents probably remember Coleman from his regular appearance on “Diff’rent Strokes.” The show ran for six seasons on NBC and two seasons on ABC. Coleman’s famous catchphrase on the series, “Whatchu talking about Willis?” became his trademark.

The child TV star was taken off of life support in May 2010 after suffering a traumatic head injury after a fall at his home.

This case concerns which of Coleman’s multiple wills should direct the allocation of his assets. Wills for Coleman’s estate were drafted in both 1999 and 2005. The latter document names Coleman’s ex-girlfriend as his executor and heir. However, an amendment, which was hand-written by Coleman in 2007, names the actor’s ex-wife as his sole heir. It states that the document should replace any previous wills.

Ultimately, the decision turns on whether the presiding judge believes Coleman’s ongoing relationship with his former wife after their divorce constituted a common law marriage.

Coleman’s ex-wife asserts that even though the two divorced in 2008, they kept living together and represented themselves as married until he passed away.

On the other hand, another woman, the actor’s ex-girlfriend, claims that Coleman named her as a beneficiary and executor of his estate in 2005. This woman managed his business affairs for several years.

There is no exact number as to the worth of Coleman’s assets; however, court papers mention a $324,000 house and a pension.

Ultimately, legal specialists indicate that the case is more about future rights to Coleman’s name and brand than assets. Which woman will prevail?

It’s okay to change your mind when you are making estate plans. However, it is so important that any amendments that you make to your legal documents are in accordance with the law. If they are not, your estate may be distributed to an unintended person.

Source: KGMI News, “Utah judge to decide fate of Gary Coleman’s estate,” May 9, 2012

Source: Huffington Post, “Gary Coleman Estate: Actor’s ex-wife Shannon Price and ex-girlfriend Anna Gray battling it out,” May 7, 2012


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As Texas residents know, when a family member is very ill, this might lead to family conflicts over finances and related matters. For this reason, in the event of a health care emergency, it is very important to make an adequate estate plan.

In recent news, lawyers for Zsa Zsa Gabor’s daughter and husband are scheduled to appear before a judge who is considering whether the former actress, who is currently in poor health, needs oversight of her finances and medical care.

In some states, conservators are appointed by courts after a hearing has determined that a person is incompetent to handle his own financial or medical affairs. In Texas, you may have heard of the terms financial or health care “power of attorney.” Conservators perform similar responsibilities. However, conservators are appointed.

The attorneys for the two sides will argue their case before a judge. Specifically, the daughter petitioned to be named as her mother’s conservator; however, Gabor’s husband has opposed this request.

According to the daughter, the husband of the actress is allegedly mismanaging her finances. On the other hand, he claims that he is providing adequate oversight–medically and financially.

While the daughter is seeking access to medical and financial information, she would be open to having an independent third-party act as her mother’s conservator.

Sources report that the former actress will not be present at the hearing. Instead, her doctor recommends that she remains in her bed, which is a familiar and comfortable environment.

Ultimately, this case is a reminder that estate planning is very important. Before something tragic happens to your health, you may want to make arrangements for the oversight of your health or estate. After all, your assets should be protected by someone that you trust.

Source: Yahoo! News, “Judge to consider oversight of Zsa Zsa Gabor,” Anthony McCartney, May 2, 2012


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