Mistakes That Can Burden Estate Planning

Estate planning seems easy enough, but looking at it like a simple thing opens up the potential for huge mistakes that can result in potential litigation and financial consequences for the heirs. If you are looking to make estate planning as simple as possible, avoid these mistakes.

No Estate Plan

Your first and biggest mistake is not having an estate plan at all, or at least not an official one. You may be vocal with your wishes, but vocal wishes can’t be legally backed up like wishes on a notarized piece of paper.

Not Making Gifts

I know, what harm could not making gifts do? However, by gifting certain amounts to spouses, you can dramatically lower your estate tax so less of the money goes to the tax man. You and your spouse can give gifts up to $14,000 per year to as many people as you would like without having to pay gift or estate taxes on them.  Combined, the two of you could give $28,000 per year to each of your children, which can significantly reduce your estate over time.

Not Creating a Life Insurance Trust

If you have a sizable life insurance policy, then the money from that policy could result in significant taxes for you upon your death.  However, if you establish  a life insurance trust to act as the owner of your policies, you can avoid estate taxes on the life insurance benefits when you die.  This could potentially save your heirs considerable money in taxes.

Unfortunately, there are so many other big mistakes you can make in the estate planning process. If you are starting your estate plan and need the advice and representation of a skilled lawyer, contact us today.

What Happens When A Trustee Steals Assets?

The estate planning trustee is obligated to meet the terms of the trust in the management and dispersal of the assets to the beneficiaries. However, while many trustees are above-board and fulfil their responsibilities to the letter of the law, not all trustees are so honest. So what happens if you catch a trustee stealing or dubiously mismanaging trust assets?

The acts of a trustee are open to examination and scrutiny of the beneficiaries and others involved in the estate. While mistakes can sometimes be made, mismanagement that goes well beyond a simple mistake is referred to as a breach of fiduciary duty, and can be sued for as such.

If you suspect a trustee is in breach of fiduciary duty, typically a beneficiary must file a complaint with the court to begin your case. Of course, a successful case means gathering all the information that you can on the possible breach. This means requesting the accounting from the trust and examining the actions of a trustee. Since it is usually the trustee that will hand over the accounting, stalling tactics or failure to comply is highly suspicious behavior. If you find the assets of a trust and their own finances co-mingled or conflicts of interest within the trust, you have a very strong case. Finally, a forensic accounting expert should be asked to review the accounts to identify any other potential fraud.

When it is time to go to court, the more information you have, the better case you will have. However, courts will also review suspicious activity of the trustee as well. Even if fraud is not proven, it is more than likely that the trustee will be removed anyway. However, this is all a very stressful situation, and you will want a skilled lawyer by your side. If you suspect trust fraud, contact us today.

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.