Probate Tips: How Can Your Family Avoid Disputes?

When you find yourself standing in the middle of the world of probate, you may begin to realize that it can be quite confusing and complicated, especially if you have never had this experience before. No one ever wants to find themselves in court, but sometimes going to court cannot be avoided.

Here are some tips and advice that may help you if you are ever faced with probate litigation or estate planning problems.


If a family wants to avoid probate, this can be accomplished by either designating someone as the beneficiary or using pay on death accounts. You will find that several financial institutions will allow you to assign or designate someone as a beneficiary of an account. When you pass away, that account will automatically become the beneficiary’s account. When you have real estate, you can also title that jointly.


Sometimes the biggest family disputes are about personal property. When you really think about it, sometimes the personal property that is being fought over is not worth that much. Family members will find themselves on an emotional roller coaster, and the end result will usually be an expensive dispute.

After the arguments and the court costs, no one will be happy. When someone wants to create an estate plan, there should be a list created that lists all of the property and who will be the recipient of the property. Many beneficiaries will respect all of your wishes that you have set in your estate plan, especially if they are set out in a clear manner.

If there is a road to take that will allow you to avoid disputes and arguments with your family, then that is the road you should take. When considering an estate plan, you should clearly define everything so your family can avoid disputes after your death.

We understand how overwhelming and frustrating this can be, and this is why we are here. Contact us today for a consultation.

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.