O’Quinn Estate Executor Resigns

The ongoing saga of the Estate of law Houston attorney John O’Quinn took an unexpected turn in the last couple of weeks when Gerald Treece, the executor of the estate, filed his notice with the Court that he wants to resign as the executor of the contentious estate.  Treece has served as the executor of this complex estate since O’Quinn died in 2009.

Treece, former dean of the South Texas College of Law in Houston, has had to deal with a number of complex issues in this estate.  O’Quinn’s long-time girlfriend made a claim to be his common-law spouse.  Issues have arisen with the O’Quinn Foundation.  Claims have been made that Treece has imprudently managed the estate’s assets.  The list goes on.

In the filings to the Court, the parties are asking that Cary Gray, the managing partner of another Houston law firm, replace Treece as the executor to tackle the remaining issues in this estate.

All of the issues that Treece has faced as executor of John O’Quinn’s estate are the kinds of issues that the attorneys at Ford + Bergner LLP handle for clients on a regular basis.  Should you find yourself in the midst of a contentious and complex probate matter, please call us.

Prevent Estate Litigation In Three Simple Steps

It has often been said that having a comprehensive estate plan in place is the greatest gift you can leave your children and other heirs once you are gone from this earth. After all, litigation over estates can quickly devolve into a living hell that tears families apart and results in hard feelings won’t heal for years, if ever.

No one wants to leave a mess behind upon their death, but many people simply don’t know what steps they can take while alive to ensure administration of their estate is efficient and painless for their loved ones.

By following these three steps you can greatly reduce the likelihood of estate-related legal conflicts for the people you love the most.

1. Make Sure You Have A Will

Whether you are young, middle-aged, or solidly entrenched in your golden years, you can benefit from having a last will and testament. While most people can greatly benefit from having trusts, power of attorney, and other estate planning vehicles in place, making sure you at least have a will is an important first step in protecting your assets and your loved ones. When you have no plan at all, you are leaving the window wide open for disagreements among the people you leave behind.

2. Update Your Will To Reflect Your Reality

Do you have children? Are you married? Are you recently divorced? A will is only as good as what it covers, so make sure your estate plan reflects the current reality of your life.

3. Talk To Your Children About Your Wishes

Make sure your children know you have an estate plan and know who to get in touch with once you are gone. Having information such as account numbers, estate planning documents, and the contact information of your attorney handy can greatly reduce confusion and stress in the immediate aftermath of your death.

Five Reasons To Update Your Will

Now that you have a will, you may think that you are done. However, it is important to check your will periodically and make the necessary changes to ensure that your final wishes will be followed.

Here are some reasons to update your will.

  • Any changes in your family. If you get married, divorced, have children, or lose someone that you love, it is important to make sure that your will gets updated. You may adopt, become a grandparent, lose a family member, or have another big change to your family which means that you want to add or subtract someone from your will.
  • Any changes in your relationships. You may want to make sure that some of your friends get some of your things. However, what happens if you are no longer friends? What about some of the new ones that you may acquire throughout your life?
  • If you move (especially to another state). If you have moved to another location or state, the laws may be different. This simply means that you may have to make some changes to your will. Be sure to visit a local attorney to make sure that your will still is valid and applies.
  • Any changes to your assets. Anytime you buy or sell a home, get some extra money, or even lose some, it is important to update your will. Anytime that you get a new insurance policy or pension plan, you may have new beneficiaries to add.
  • Give it a regular checkup. You should probably just glance at your will on a regular basis to make sure that it is exactly the way that you want it.

Whether you think you have had any changes in your life or not, it never hurts to check over your will at least once a year. However, if you have any changes in your family and friends, you should update it, as well as if you have any changes to your assets.

Contact us for all of your legal needs.

Avoiding Trust Litigation

The intention of a revocable trust is to avoid litigation and conflict upon the death of the trustor or primary beneficiary. Unfortunately, poorly worded or unclear trusts, or contentious beneficiaries can sometimes undo all the good intentions of an estate planner. There are no guarantees, but to avoid potential pitfalls, the estate planner should keep a few things in mind.

  • Determine the trustor’s intent. Upon the death of the individual, the primary means of contesting the will or trust will be challenging the intent of the trustor. This is especially true if the individual suffered from any kind of dementia or mental defect. If there is any question of the trustor’s mental status, a doctor’s affidavit should accompany the trust.
  • Amend trusts to reflect changes in tax laws. In the current political climate, tax laws and estate laws are changing rapidly, and can affect formulaic bequests (negatively and positively). To ensure the trustor’s intentions are met, keep the trust bequests current with tax laws.
  • Include a mediation or arbitration clause in the trust. If the trustor agrees, a clause specifying that disputes must be resolved (or attempted to be resolved) through mediation or binding arbitration can help in preventing future litigation. The majority of disputes involve breakdowns in communication, so professional mediators can be of great assistance in ending arguments.
  • Clarify everything. Don’t let legalese obscure the intent of the trustor. If the intent is to remove an individual from the trust, or to fund certain properties, the trust should say so as clearly as possible. The clearer the language, the clearer the testor’s wishes will be when the trust or will is finally read.

The estate planner needs to think of all these things ahead of time, because the trustor and the family and other beneficiaries won’t, until after the shouting begins in court. By writing clearly and keeping abreast of changes to tax and other requirements, much difficulty can be prevented in the future.

To be completely honest, estate planning can be a tricky task to tackle.  Those who actually make an attempt at developing an estate plan have made a big step because many people never even take the first step towards estate planning.  A huge number of people have no Will, and the majority of them have children.  Dying without a Will means leaving the well-being of your children unprotected.

Without a well-drafted Will, your unexpected death may mean that your teenage son ends up having access to significant amounts of money when he is not yet capable of making good decisions with that money.  Likewise, your small children might end up being given to a family member that you would not want raising your children in your absence.

Even if you have a simple estate, you should still have a simple estate plan.  A simple Will allows you to choose when your children will receive your money and who will care for your children if you are suddenly not able to do so.

Do you need an estate plan? Do you need to update your current estate plan? Contact us today for more information.

Wills and Estate Mistakes of the Rich and Famous

Celebrity deaths immediately capture the public’s attention but quickly fade from the spotlight as popular culture marches on. The aftermath of a celebrity death can be far more interesting, primarily because of the estate planning mistakes that many celebrities make in their wills.

Heath Ledger is a prime example. The Oscar-winning actor whose portrayal of the Joker in the Batman trilogy created a Will before he died in 2008. He left his entire $20 million estate to his parents and sisters, but gave nothing to his daughter, who had been born after Ledger wrote the will. The actor’s relatives remedied this omission by putting significant assets into a trust for her. The lesson here is that Wills need to be updated periodically to reflect changes in circumstances.

The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, also created an estate plan before his untimely death. That plan included a trust, but many of Jackson’s assets were left outside of that trust. Because he failed to follow through on his plan, Jackson’s estate has been in and out of probate court several times.

Unlike Jackson and Ledger, the musician, Prince, had no Will or estate plan at the time of his death in 2016. Without a Will, his assets are set to be distributed to heirs per the intestacy rules in the State of Minnesota, but a substantial portion of those assets will be depleted by legal fees and government estate taxes.

This list of celebrity Will mistakes goes on and on as fame and glory blind the rich and famous to planning for their own mortality. Fortunately, we can take some instruction from their mistakes not only to make our own Wills and estate plans, but to keep those plans fully up-to-date. Ford + Bergner LLP helps residents of Texas and other states to develop estate plans that maximize the value of their assets for their heirs while minimizing estate taxes and probate costs and expenses. Please contact us for assistance with your own will and estate plan.

Communication and Wills

At its core, a Will is a tool to assure the continuity of families by smoothly moving assets between generations. Viewed this way, it only makes sense that those involved should openly communicate to achieve a clear understanding of who is in the Will, why it is distributed as it is, and why any limitations or conditions have been put in it.

Parents have a right to decide conditions and distributions of inheritance and have no obligation to justify their decisions. But if they choose to explain their reasoning, their children will benefit. Consider choosing between even and uneven distribution between children.

Children normally expect that assets will simply be split evenly between them. While this is the most common distribution, a parent may have reasons for uneven distribution. A common situation is adjusting inheritance based on relative financial need. In this case, a financially successful child may feel slighted and may take these feeling out on a less successful sibling.

The purpose of communication between parent and child is not to debate if the method of distribution is fair or not, but to create understanding and acceptance of the decision. Doing this while the parent is alive provides the disappointed child an opportunity to process the situation and ask questions. This in turn focuses any disappointment towards the parent and away from a sibling – possibly preserving the relationship.

Money and family can be a messy combination. Keeping unnecessary secrets and creating big reveals may delay facing problems, but this will normally create unnecessary hard feelings and conflict. A modest amount of open communication can prevent these problems. Please contact us for assistance in structuring an estate plan that benefits your family.