Having a Last Will and Testament is More Than Just Future Planning

Living without a last will and testament is a bad idea. Dying without a will, on the other hand, is a far worse situation.

Death is a topic that no one likes to discuss, which is understandable. But if you work in the world of wills and trusts, you must guide your clients with respect and authority.

When you die without a will, your family is at the mercy of the state, who will then decide how to distribute your property, never taking into account your wishes.

This division of property may follow your desires, or it may not. There’s no way to tell. What’s worse, family members that you have zero connection with might get property that you don’t want them to have.

One aspect to remember about dying without a will, as we pointed out in an earlier article, is that the state doesn’t automatically get everything after you die.

The State does not take the property of someone dying without a Will. Instead, Texas law dictates how the assets of someone dying without a Will are divided upon their death.

Each possible scenario is laid out in the article above, and you can satisfy your curiosity for each of them as they apply to you.

 As you can see, having a last will and testament is an important factor for you and your family. While the State of Texas won’t simply take your property from you when you die, having a valid will ensures that all of your belongings go to whom you see fit.

Further, a will isn’t validated unless it meets particular criteria — as is laid out by Texas State Law. In order to validate your will, it’s important that you work with an attorney in the validation process.

For more information on how we can help you, please contact us today.

Why You Shouldn’t Take a “Once and Done” Approach to Wills

You met with an attorney and finished your estate planning. Your wills and other documents completed and in hand, you sigh in relief. You’re done now, right? Not necessarily!

Review wills, trusts and other estate planning documents at least every five years to ensure they are still set up to do what you want them to do.

The most common reasons to update estate planning documents include the birth or death of a loved one, a change in financial circumstances, acquisition of additional or different real estate, a change in wishes for distribution of assets and a change in who you initially named to fulfill fiduciary roles such as guardianship for minor children, trustees of a trust or the executor or administrator of your will.

If, after reviewing your existing documents, you determine that something needs to be changed or updated, an estate planning attorney can help determine if it makes sense to make the changes through a codicil or amendment, or if starting with brand new documents might be a better option.

With a codicil or amendment, you keep the existing documents and simply add to them, identifying the articles or paragraphs changed. As a general matter, codicils or amendments work well if you are making small changes to your existing documents, such as changing the named executor or administrator or adding a child’s name to the document.

In other situations, however, it is preferable to start with “fresh” documents. For example, if you are changing the distribution percentages or the beneficiaries’ names, you may not want to show the “paper trail” of amendments to the ultimate beneficiaries. By having brand new documents prepared, you effectively revoke and completely replace the original documents.

If it has been more than five years since you reviewed your existing documents, we encourage you to dust them off and read through them.

To discuss possible changes to your plan or documents, please contact us.

Estate Planning: Avoid Being A Target Of Financial Abuse

When you think of estate planning what do you think about? We think about people making sure their affairs or in order so they will have someone to take care of them and their assets in case they become physically or mentally impaired. In case a person does become unable to care for themselves or manage their own assets, creating an estate plan will ensure that everything goes as you wish.

As we know, unfortunately, the elder adults are targeted more when it comes to financial abuse. Even the people you trust the most can take advantage of you, especially if they have been granted power in one of your estate planning documents.

Having a Power of Attorney can lower the chances that elder abuse will happen if you have chosen a person you truly trust. The Power of Attorney will be able to make all the decisions that will impact you personally, and the person will also be able to manage your financial affairs.

Unfortunately, having a Power of Attorney can also lead to abuse if the document is not clear or if there have been powers granted that you did not wish to give. Some of those powers include the Power of Attorney being able to give himself or herself some of your assets or finances. Another improper power could be having you admitted to a facility because of your impairment.

It is important to carefully consider the people you entrust with your assets and your personal care. If you need assistance in creating your estate planning documents so you will not be a victim of financial abuse, contact us today.

Looking Forward To The New Year In Estate Planning

One reason that estate planning can be so complicated without help is that the rules can change yearly. It is also easy to miss things, which can make it vital to have someone knowledgeable look over any documents like wills or trusts. Here is a bit of estate tax information that you may need to know for 2016.

New Lifetime Exclusion Amount

To receive tax benefits while gifting your heirs, a unified gift and estate tax credit lets you transfer property or gifts while you are alive. The lifetime exclusion amount that one can give without taxes applying is $5.45 million for 2016 as this number is adjusted for inflation every year. This gives a benefactor tax benefits, but estate planning documents are still needed to ensure that beneficiaries receive what one wants them to have when passing away.

Remember, Texas has its own rules for gifts and estate taxes. You might need a Texas attorney when making decisions regarding your estate to ensure your documents comply with all federal and state laws.

Yearly Gift Giving

You are allowed to give some gifts before the lifetime exclusion amount applies. The amount one can give annually stays the same this year at $14,000, and there is no limit to how many people this amount can be divided between. If you plan to give gifts this year, make a note of exceptions. For example, annual limits are not applicable for spouses.

Giving As A Couple

In 2016, couples have a lifetime exclusion amount of $10.9 million. This is because portability rules allow a surviving spouse to get a deceased spouse’s unused lifetime exclusion amount.

If you have questions about estate planning or want to make sure your documents are valid, contact us today.