Everyone needs a will. This is the first and most essential element of estate planning. A will may be simple or complex, but to be enforceable, it must be the original and properly signed. If you die and a will is the only testamentary document or asset protection plan in place, your executor (named by you or by the court if you do not name one) will be responsible for taking the will through probate and, ultimately, distributing assets to beneficiaries.
Even if you think you don’t need a will, you should have a simple one to give your loved ones the option to pass your estate to your beneficiaries. It is cheaper than an heirship determination. If you have been divorced or widowed and your current spouse has children by a prior marriage, it is imperative that you both have wills. Your spouse’s children by a prior marriage will become his or her heirs to much of their property in Houston, Texas and beyond. After 1993, a person’s children by a prior marriage, as their heirs, receive all or part of the spouse’s half of the community property upon their death.
Your heirs often are not who you want your property to pass to on your death. If your spouse has children from a prior marriage those children (not you) are the heirs to receive your spouse’s half of the community property if your spouse dies. This is can be half of what you and your spouse have accumulated over the years. If you do not have a will it is important to know who your heirs are if you die.
Wills are well-known estate planning tools, but a will is only the beginning of a complete estate plan.
Many people want and need more than a simple will to ensure their wishes will be carried out regarding their assets after death.
In today’s world, it is not unusual for retired people to have most or all of their financial assets in retirement plans, IRAs, or similar accounts. Often, they designate beneficiaries, pay on death to named persons or joint tenancies with right of survivorship. These strategies may or may not work well. When people become incapacitated, they often cannot re-designate beneficiaries when the beneficiaries die before them and often contingent beneficiaries are not named or also die. The custodians holding investment do not have uniform beneficiary contracts saying where the funds go when beneficiaries die. In some situations, the funds pass to the spouse, which may be unintentional. Getting the beneficiary designations to work can be more daunting than drafting a will.
Sophisticated, advanced-level estate planning may enable beneficiaries to assume control of assets with no need for probate. This is a significant goal of many clients of this law firm. A complex will may include detailed instructions dictating the terms of allocation of assets and/or trusts such as living trusts (revocable trusts), testamentary trusts, charitable lead trusts, remainder trusts, domestic trusts, foreign trusts or special needs trusts.
James H. Hard, Jr., Attorney at Law, in Houston, Texas has decades of experience and a well-earned reputation for effective asset protection through creation and updating of wills, trusts, and estate planning tools and strategies.
Another essential element of effective estate planning is to build in provisions for the possibility of incapacity or disability. Taking into account the decedent’s potential incapacity someday, powers of attorney allow caregivers to gain access to funds and manage assets such as real estate properties belonging to an individual while that person is still alive but incapacitated.
A special needs trust can preserve a disabled person’s eligibility for Medicaid and other government assistance. Whereas leaving property outright to such persons, or to them in the wrong kind of trust, can disqualify them for receiving governmental assistance. Special needs trusts can protect assets for disabled adult children, parents, and siblings who the creator of the trusts intends to provide for.
Other legal areas falling under the umbrella of estate planning in general are:
Living wills spelling out health care preferences
Health care proxy designations enabling named representatives to make decisions regarding resuscitation, blood transfers and other treatment options in case of incapacity
Guardianship and plans for guardianship administration, including naming who your and your children’s guardian should be and who you disqualify from being your guardian if you are incapacitated
Estate planning and projected wealth transfers for high net worth families, including plans to avoid estate taxation when assets total more than $11 million per person
Protection of assets from creditors, including protection in case of liability through a malpractice or personal injury lawsuit
Attorney James H. Hard, Jr. brings more than 50 years of experience to the task of helping clients select and create the most effective estate planning strategies. The voice of experience is available to advise you in this important area. Call or schedule a consultation through the firm’s online intake form.