Houston Estate Planning Law Blog


As favorable gift-tax rules slated to end in December, will stipulations are becoming more relevant during the estate planning process. Whether it is forcing heirs to undergo drug testing or even requiring children to visit a family member’s grave, estate planners are becoming more creative in drafting the hurdles that heirs must clear before they are able to receive money or assets. However, even with the flexibility, Texas residents have to control their heirs after they are gone, some will stipulations could end up in a court battle.

Many people do not know that there limits apply to what people can and cannot require. One provision that could prevent people from certain requests is called ‘contrary to public policy.’ This provision prevents the promotion or encouragement of divorce or criminal behavior. Recent changes also include prohibiting racist behavior. As an example, a will that stipulated leaving money only for a scholarship for white students would likely be struck down in court.

Furthermore, discouraging someone from getting married could also wind up in a court battle. However, the law is flexible in this requirement because it allows someone to bypass their heir’s spouse or any future spouses. Vagueness could also be struck down. Anything that could be viewed as illegal, impossible or even ambiguous is likely to be thrown out in a court.

In the end, the law is typically favorable to people leaving assets as they wish, as long they don’t encourage any of the above mentioned cases. Texas residents planning their will who wish to use a unique stipulation may want to ensure they are familiar with all applicable state laws before adding such a requirement. Doing so could prevent heirs from having to deal with courts.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “How to Control Your Heirs From the Grave,” Laura Sanders, Aug. 10, 2012


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When you create an estate plan that adequately expresses your wishes for the distribution of assets after death, it is easy to set aside the plan and ignore it until the death comes. However, authorities note that it is important to make a periodic review of all estate planning documents to ensure that they continue to work effectively for the person creating the plan. In addition to the periodic review, there are life situations that may trigger the need to make changes to the plan that is in place.

For example, when a couple in Texas decides to wed or to divorce, there can be changes that must be made to existing estate planning documents. In the case of a wedding, it may be necessary to add a new name to a trust or update what provisions would be made in the case of a person’s death. Or, if a marriage is ending, new powers of attorney or changes may be needed. Similarly, when there are changes in your children’s status or new step-children are added to the equation, estate planning documents should be reviewed carefully to avoid a battle later.

For those who have trusts as a part of their estate planning portfolio, it may be important to complete a periodic review to make sure that all property has been properly placed in the trust. This is the case when a new mortgage is acquired or a refinance is completed. If the property is removed from a trust to refinance and then not replaced, it could mean problems down the road. Creating new accounts of any kind warrants the review of estate planning documents, especially a trust. It is important to ensure that all accounts are included in the trust plan.

If one does not review their estate planning documents, some of the most valuable elements of estate planning, such as avoiding probate or reducing familial stress, may be limited. In addition, a person may find that there are new tools that can more adequately take care of their wishes for asset distribution to potential heirs. Texas residents should not be afraid to ask questions and seek experienced help with their estate plans; after all, the future of their family is at stake.

Source: Forbes, “5 Life Events That Require An Estate Planning Review,” Michael Chamberlain, Aug. 13, 2012


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Do you have a person selected to oversee the administration of your estate? For Texas residents involved in the estate planning process, choosing a trusted person to manage the distribution of one’s estate is extremely important. When considering a person most qualified for estate administration, many people choose their children. While many children get along and grow up to be responsible and trusted adults, sadly, this is not the case for everyone.

Children can still be designated to do the job, but discussing your choice with the other siblings may be the most sensible route to take. Estate division can often cause sibling rivalry. In addition, people entrusted to estate administration may be legally entitled to a stipend for their work. This may lead to one child receiving more money than the other children received, potentially causing strife in their relationship.

While many people do select children to oversee their final wishes, there are sometimes issues that prevent one from doing so. In that case, other trusted friends or relatives can be assigned the duty, even if they do not reside in the same state. Anyone else assigned to the duty may also be eligible to receive a commission for their work from the person’s estate.

Texas residents know that different situations exist that make it difficult for a person to place a family member in charge of their estate administration. However, choosing a trusted person is a critical step to ensure one’s last wishes are fully adhered to and the estate is taken care of.

Source: Winston-Salem Journal, “Choosing administrators key when planning your estate,” Mike Wells, Aug. 5, 2012


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The Jackson family is currently in the news regarding an estate dispute. Now, the guardianship of the signer’s children is being examined and will likely be adjusted. The new feud comes after siblings questioned the estate administration and openly wondered if the singer’s will was faked. While Texas residents will likely not have their estate play out in public like Michael Jackson’s estate, the matter does reinforce the importance of assigning a trusted family member or friend as guardian of one’s minor children.

The “King of Pop” left nothing in his will for any of his siblings and transferred guardianship of his three children to his mother Katherine. However, a strange incident occurred where Katherine left the children for 10 days without any contact and was reported missing. While the judge does not believe there was an error made by her, he suspended the guardianship because she did not contact the children. Instead, TJ Jackson became the temporary guardian.

As a result, a petition will likely be filed that will give TJ and Katherine co-guardianship authority. Initially, Katherine was listed as the sole guardian, but now, TJ will be able to step in as well, potentially taking some of the pressure off of her. The new agreement will give TJ control of the home’s staff and input into daily operations.

The process of estate administration can be a tough job for anyone, but especially so if families are squabbling. However, when children are involved, the situation can escalate. Fortunately, the Jackson family appears to have settled this issue for now, and the children will remain with a guardian that they are familiar with.

Source: KansasCity.com, “Plan seeks co-guardian for Michael Jackson’s kids,” Linda Deutsch, Aug. 1, 2012


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