Repeal of Federal Estate Tax

Last Thursday, April 16, 2015, the Republican-lead House of Representatives passed a bill that would repeal the Federal Estate Tax.  If signed into law, the bill would remove all taxes on money transferred from an Estate to the beneficiaries of the Estate, except for citizens living in those States that have an Estate Tax at the State level.

Currently, the Federal Estate Tax only applies to individuals who hold more than $5.43 million or $10.86 million for married couples in 2015.  This is approximately  0.2 percent of the US population.  Republicans, however, argue that ending the tax would alleviate the burden of family farms and businesses because some families are forced to incur loans in order to pay off the Estate tax generated when a substantial amount of land or property is passed from one generation to the next.

The Democrats believe that the Estate Tax exemption is high enough, and the Estate Tax only affects the wealthiest Americans.  Additionally, the Democrats point out that the United States government would lose approximately $270 billion over the next 10 years if the tax was repealed.  President Obama has indicated that he would likely veto the bill if the measure passed the Senate.  Currently, there is no vote scheduled on the bill in the Senate.

The experienced attorneys at Ford + Bergner LLP have substantial experience in planning for future, in both tax planning and non-tax planning situations.  Feel free to contact our office today to schedule an appointment.

Contesting Wills: How Will Your Last Wishes Be Carried Out?

In the state of Texas, there are various rules that need to be followed when it comes to contesting wills. When we talk about wills, we generally assume them to be valid. Also, there is also a bias when there is a discussion or concerns about following a person’s desires.  The bias is towards the person who is deceased.

There are specific reasons why a will may be contested. If anyone is thinking about contesting a will, the reason should be in one of those categories. There is also a specific time limit that should be followed so the case will not be dismissed or thrown out of court.

If someone wants to file a will for probate, it must be filed within four years of the decedent’s death. When the will has been probated, a contest of the will can be filed within two years of that. However, there are several exceptions to all of these rules and reasons.

Generally, if anyone tries to contest a will after the time frame or for a reason that is not excepted, it will be thrown out. If a will contest is brought too late, you can imagine the complications that will arise if someone has already spent a significant amount of the money or all of it.

If someone in the family feels that the decedent did not have the right capacity at the time the will was created, then this argument can be made. In order for a will to be seen as valid, the following(and more) should be true:

  • The person understood exactly what was going on at the time
  • The person knew what the purpose of making the will was
  • The person could identify certain people who were named in the will, and could identify the relation

No one wants to think about their will being the big reason for a disagreement or fight. If you want your family to remain at peace after you are gone, you can consider making plans for your estate. We understand that this can be a stressful and confusing time for you and your family, and this is why we are here to help.

Estate Planning: What to Do About Facebook

Facebook is your social media of choice because everybody uses it and it’s easy to use. You enjoy sharing and reading posts with your kids, grand kids and friends. You have Facebook pages for one or more of your businesses so customers remain engaged with what you have to offer. And you even have a page for your hobby club because it’s the most convenient way of communicating with the membership.

Have you considered what happens to your Facebook accounts when you die? Unless you make preparations, they all become locked. No matter how important these pages are to your family and friends, they’ll remain inaccessible to anyone. No one will even know what happened to you and assume you’ve chosen to abandon social media for one reason or another.

To avoid this possibility, you can designate a legacy contact for Facebook. This individual can memorialize your pages, enabling your friends and loved ones to digitally commemorate your life after you’ve passed away.

Your legacy contact can write a final post on your behalf, allowing your followers to share memories about you. He or she can also change your cover and profile photos, and respond to new friend requests. However, they cannot log into your account, touch previous posts, or see messages you’ve sent. You may also allow them to download a copy of your Facebook pages for permanent backup.

To add a legacy contact, click the Down arrow at the top right of your Facebook page and choose “Settings.” Then, click “Security” from the left pane and choose “Legacy Contact.” You can then add the name of a Facebook friend to act as the contact. A message is sent to them so you can discuss this option.

If you want to know more about estate planning, whether for digital or physical possessions, please contact us.

Seeking Guardianship for a Minor or Incapacitated Person: Who Can Serve as Guardian?

Seeking guardianship for a loved one unable to care for themselves is a legal maneuver bringing considerable power in what happens to the person needing care. That is why when you seek guardianship for an underage person, an older person, or anyone else lacking capacity, consideration of your suitability is heavily scrutinized. Here in Texas, determining guardianship is a thorough process, and often, several people may be eligible. In the end, however, some may be able to be weeded out due to certain circumstances in favor of yourself.

How does the court determine who’s suitable for being a guardian? When considering  who should be taking care of an underage child or an incapacitated adult is a heavy responsibility, numerous situations are looked at for determining eligibility.

Analyzing Who’s Unsuitable

One of the first things the court is going to look at is background and reputation behind individuals on the list. Do any of the potential guardians have a bad reputation in the family? It isn’t always a family member and perhaps someone who’s close to the underage person or ailing adult. If you or they’ve had relationship problems with the ward in the past, this could be a red flag.

It’s also possible the immediate guardian on the list is under incapacitation when the time comes they’re needed. The court will choose another on the eligible list with the same criteria. An important aspect they’ll look at is if the guardian is underage themselves or just not mature enough to handle the task.

In most cases, the court chooses two guardians, one that takes care of the person directly, and another guardian taking care of the person’s financial affairs. Before any of those decisions get made based on reputation, both guardians need full residency in the state of Texas or an agent for their role if living in another state.

We’ll help you with all the complex matters of guardianship here at Ford + Bergner LLP.

Contact us and we’ll work closely with you through the entire process and prove to the court that you’re worthy of being guardian to someone close to you.

Do You Need Trust Litigation Assistance?

A trust is a key estate planning resource for all individuals. Since money, property, and other assets are usually involved, disputes can occur that will often result in litigation. You may need legal representation in various trust litigation matters. These kind of trust litigation matters can include the breach of fiduciary duty, concerns about the trust being legitimate, or the trustee mismanaging the trust.

Since trust litigation can be complicated, you will need to have a trust litigation attorney who has the necessary knowledge and experience to protect your rights. Basic construction of a trust includes:

  • The donor, grantor, or settlor establishing a trust. This can typically be done through trust agreement, a last will and testament, or another kind of legal document.
  • A beneficiary is named. There can be more than one beneficiary.
  • The trustee agrees to hold money, property, or other assets for the benefit of someone else.
  • The trustee holds and manages the principal of the trust.

There are numerous reasons why someone’s estate plan will be held entirely, or partially, in a trust. Many times, a trust’s assets will not pass through probate. A trust can give someone more privacy and discretion. Although there are several other benefits of having a trust, in the end, people may still find themselves having disagreements related to the trust.

Many times a trust can be litigated for the following reasons:

  • There are various estate planning documents that are competing with each other
  • Oral promises were made, but those promises are not shown in the trust
  • The original estate planning documents cannot be found

While honest mistakes can be made, often times less than honest actions take place. Whatever the reasons may be for the disagreements or disputes, we are dedicated to helping you. If you would like to schedule a consultation, contact us for information.

Estate Planning Myths That You Should Know The Truth About

Many people have misunderstandings and misconceptions about estate planning, and typically everything else about probate and court proceedings. People may believe that every situation calls for probate court to be avoided. However, every person’s situation is different and an estate planning lawyer will be able to help you determine what things you need to do to meet all of your goals.

Many people do not create an estate plan because of a circulation of myths that frustrate and confuse people. If people are unaware of the truth, these myths will continue to circulate and this can be harmful to one’s life and the future of those they leave behind:

An Estate Plan Is Only For People Who Are Wealthy

This is not true. This is probably one of the common myths that gets spread around. By certain standards, it may seem that only a “rich” person only has to put together an estate plan. However, when you think about all of the things you have, such as your home, your checking accounts, savings account, vehicles, life insurance policies, etc, you will begin to realize that you may have more assets and possessions than you realized.

Estate planning is about more than saving on taxes; it is about having control of your wealth and having protection of your needs and your family’s needs when it counts the most.

All I Need Is A Will

If you put together a quick will, then that will be better than not having a will at all. On the other hand, you may not even need a quick all. The state that you live in will have a plan in place for you. However, that plan will probably not be the plan you want. If you want things done correctly, you have to make sure you take the right steps to do it correctly. If you are going to do something, you should do it right. This applies to anything that you do in life. When you want the best estate planning documents, you have to spend a significant amount of time on it.

I Don’t Have To Worry About It Yet

Generally people think that their age means they should not consider estate planning. It does not matter if you are in your 20s or in your 60s. We all know that the unexpected can occur at any age. Death does not have an age on it. In case of unexpected tragedies, an estate plan can be extremely useful even if you are still young. An estate plan is about more than death. If you are ever faced with an unexpected stay in the hospital, your plan will include various documents that will be beneficial in cases like this, such as a HIPAA Authorization and a healthcare directive.

We have a goal to provide our clients with plans that work best for them. You want to be able to control your things while you are still here. Contact us when you are ready to take control of your life so you can provide your family with the things the need even when you are no longer here.

Probate Court: Avoid The Downfalls With Proper Planning

What will happen to your property when you are no longer here? Well, that answer can be completely up to you, with a few exceptions. There are many people who are surprised that the things they do or do not do throughout their life can have an impact on how their properties, assets, and valuables are transferred after they have passed on.

If an executor of an estate ever hears the word probate, there will probably be a chill going across the body. However, going through a probate does not have to be this big nightmare of a process, especially if you have the right counsel. If your property goes through the probate process, it can add on to the stress and emotions that are already weak and fragile during this time.

If you understand what property items can be probate assets, you will be able to understand how you can avoid probate court.

Joint Ownership

If you have an asset that is joined with someone else, that particular asset will go to the joint owner after your death. You will not have to go through a probate if there is joint ownership in an asset. Usually there is joint ownership on a checking account or a deed.

Living Trusts

Many people choose to use a living trust as a way to avoid probate. Property that is left behind through a living trust can be given to the beneficiaries without the need of probate.

The living trust document has to list all of the property, list who will be the trustee, and list the person who will get the property when the trust maker passes away. The trustee is someone who will be responsible for taking care of the property.

Beneficiary

If someone has a retirement account or life insurance, a form can be completed that will allow you to list the person’s name who will receive the benefits after you have gone. Whatever company is holding your assets, you can simply speak to someone about changing the beneficiary designation. You will find that several companies give you the flexibility you need in doing this. You can name a primary beneficiary and contingent beneficiaries; you will also be able to divide the amount in percentages.