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.

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.

Estate litigation and common-law marriage: A recent case in Texas

Recently in Southeast Texas, a man filed a lawsuit over what he claims was unlawful interference in the estate of his late common-law wife.

According to an article from the Southeast Texas Record, the man had known his late common-law wife for around 15 years, starting as acquaintances and then moving towards friendship and a romantic relationship, with cohabitation beginning in 2014. He claims that they had planned a special ceremony for their common-law marriage, but her health deteriorated, and she passed away.

His lawsuit claims that his late common-law wife had intended to include him in her estate plan, but other possible beneficiaries raised objections. He claims that after her health worsened, several parties conspired to push him out of her life and take advantage of her when she was in a weakened state to have him effectively removed from her estate plans.

Common-law marriage challenges

Along with the DC and several other states, Texas recognizes common-law marriages; couples don’t need to obtain an official license to declare themselves married.

During estate planning, it’s critical to include your status as a common-law spouse and ensure that there’s proof the marriage exists. For example, both parties need to have agreed that they’re married; it can’t rest on one-sided perceptions of a relationship. The couple also needs to live with each other on a continuous basis (cohabitation) and present themselves as married to other people. Ideally they’ll have witnesses, such as neighbors and friends, who can attest to this, along with various pieces of documentation – such as a service they signed up for together as husband and wife.

However, without a marriage license and without sufficient proof of common-law marriage, individuals involved in a common-law marriage might need to deal with estate litigation. Other parties, particularly children from previous marriages, might battle the right of a common-law spouse to inherit from the estate.

To reduce the chances of estate litigation, be sure to contact an experienced estate attorney. If you make sure your estate documents state your intentions clearly and explicitly include your common-law marriage, you’ll have a better chance at avoiding a legal battle. And in the event that you’re already facing such a battle, you’ll need strong legal representation.

Legal Battle over Robin Williams’ Estate

In August of 2014, Robin Williams passed away in his northern California home at the age of 63.  Williams is survived by his spouse, Susan Schneider Williams and his three adult children from prior marriages, Zak Williams, Zelda Williams and Cody Williams.  Robin executed a Will and Trust prior to his death that describe in detail how he intended to divide his estate, which total approximately $45 million.

However, Susan Williams has filed suit against the children seeking a Order from the Court removing the couples’ $7 million dollar home from the items described in the Will and Trust. Robin’s Estate Planning documents contain provisions that leave the majority of the Estate’s “jewelry, memorabilia and personal property items” to Robin’s children.  Susan Williams seeks to retain jewelry, memorabilia and other personal property contained in their home as community property.  Susan Williams argues that the “memorabilia and jewelry” described in the Will are items only located in Robin’s Napa Valley home, not the home that he shared with Susan Williams.  While Susan Williams’ attorney believes that this will not be a contentious dispute, Robin’s children feel that Susan is attempting to re-draft Robin’s Will to better suit her desires.

The legal battle over the Estate of Robin Williams serves as a warning that even when clear planning is in place, a blended family can easily find themselves in Court contesting the Estate of a loved one.  If you or someone you know requires assistance with an Estate Litigation matter or simply wants to plan around potential Estate Litigation, contact the experienced attorneys at Ford + Bergner LLP today.

For People with Firearms: A Look into Gun Trusts in Estate Planning

If you own any firearms, one of the questions you’ll need to address is how to include them legally in your estate.

You might have only one or two guns, or maybe it’s a larger collection. Regardless, there are legal issues with transferring these to your beneficiaries in the event of your incapacitation or death. For example, you might have beneficiaries who can’t legally own or operate firearms. But even if they are eligible, there are still restrictions and a transfer process that need attention and care. You or your beneficiaries could face serious criminal charges if you don’t account for the legal issues.

The role of gun trusts

As discussed in a recent article from Investment News, gun trusts can facilitate the legal transfer of firearms from one individual to another (they might also make the process of purchasing firearms go a little more smoothly, as the trust itself can serve as the entity that buys the firearms). By using the trust, you often don’t need as much paperwork or as many steps towards making the transfer from one gun owner to another.

When it comes to establishing a gun trust, you need to work with attorneys who understand estate law and the relevant state and federal laws for gun ownership, transfers, and sales. For example, even if you live in Texas, you might want to leave one of your guns to a family member who lives in Oregon or Utah. What are the legalities of transferring a gun across state lines? What are the gun laws for those states? (For instance, are certain types of firearms and ammunition illegal in another state?)

The trust document itself can lay out specific guidelines and restrictions for trustees and beneficiaries, so that they’re less likely to accidentally break the law.

Another important point from the Investment News article is that even if you decide not to transfer your firearms, you can make provisions in a trust for their legal sale, with the money going to your beneficiaries.

If you have any questions about this issue, don’t hesitate to contact us. With legal guidance, you can make informed decisions about what to do with your firearms while complying with all the legalities.

Have You Updated Your Will Lately?

No one ever likes to think about his or her death and what it will do to the family. As devastating as the topic is, you still need to consider everything that could  happen whenever that time comes. When you think about everything that may occur, you should consider putting a will together. You will want the right people in charge of your personal belongings, finances, and other assets when that time does come.

When you update your will on a regular basis, you are ensuring yourself and your family that everything will be accounted for. All of your wishes will also be carried out when your family knows you have a will. When you have your will prepared by a professional, this ensures that your family members will be protected from having any burdens or difficulties when it comes to your finances.

Here are some things to consider when you are preparing to draft a will or update it regularly:

Consult With An Attorney 

  • It can certainly be overwhelming and challenging when you are considering writing a will. When things are a bit overwhelming people tend to put those things on hold and say they will wait until a later time. However, creating will should not be put on hold. In this case, it will be better for you to team up with an attorney. An attorney can be by your side through the entire process, and he or she will make sure every part of your will is accurate and complete.

Make Sure Everything Is Accurate And Updated

  • Make sure you have listed any valuables and assets that you plan to leave behind. Throughout the years, if you acquire additional assets, make sure you remember to update that list. You should also make sure you have a good idea of what those valuables are worth. Whenever you buy additional property, acquire additional finances, or buy insurance coverage, continue to update the list as necessary.

Whenever there is a significant change in your life, you should make changes to your will.  An attorney can provide you with the resources and tools you need in order to have a will that will make things easier on your family. Contact us when you need assistance or advice.

Have You Considered Estate Planning Being One Of Your Goals For The New Year?

The start of a new years is always a good time to take a good look at your estate planning documents. You should review these documents to make sure everything is planned according to your wishes.

Your goals and wishes for your estate planning can change over the years. Several personal reasons, such as the addition of a new child or grandchild, divorce, marriage, death or injury can affect your estate planning for the new year. When you review your estate planning documents, you should consider more than just the property you own and the assets you own, but you should also consider the people who those assets will be distributed among.

You may not want to consider planning for death at the beginning of the new year, but it is better to plan ahead or update your old estate planning documents before it is too late. You should make these documents, if you consider yourself to be youthful and even if you think that you do not have enough assets and property to leave a will. Everyone who has children, assets, and property of any type of value should have estate planning documents stored somewhere.

Creating your estate plan will give clear information to your family members on what you want to happen with your things. If a will is not left, all of your property could be passed over according to your state law. A will is of significant value and importance when a person needs someone to watch over their children and care for them until they are old enough to care for themselves. Sometimes these documents are put on hold because parents do not want to think about leaving their children to be cared for someone else.

It is unbearable for a parent to think about this, but it is necessary for your children to be cared for properly. If you do not have documents that outline what you want to happen to your children, the court can make decisions on who will care for their children, even if you have asked a friend or family member to step in.

People have different resolutions and goals for the new year, but have you considered making estate planning one of those goals? If you need assistance with your estate plans, contact us.

Four reasons you should work on your estate planning during the holiday season

It’s likely that you have many plans lined up for the holiday season. Drawing up new estate planning documents or updating existing documents will hopefully be a part of your holiday schedule. If you haven’t yet given serious thought to your estate, or if you’ve been delaying necessary changes to it, please don’t delay.

The following are four reasons the holidays are ideal for estate planning.

1) You’re meeting with loved ones. If you’re meeting up with your loved ones over the holidays, it’s a great opportunity to discuss estate planning issues with them. When possible, you should discuss your estate with people you trust, so that they can give you feedback and also be better prepared to step into any future roles you’re designating for them, such as guardian, trustee, executor or beneficiary of certain assets.

2) It’s a good time of year to take stock of things. During the winter holidays, many people reflect on the past year and how their needs and priorities may have changed (in part because of major life events such as weddings and births). Your estate planning is an expression of what you want your legacy to be and how you hope to care for yourself and your beneficiaries. Think about whether your current estate plans reflect your values and priorities.

3) You’re thinking about your taxes for the coming year. As you consider the amount you need to pay for taxes on various assets (and the amount of taxes on your estate should you pass away) you might want to make revisions to your estate planning – including the formation of certain trusts to better shield your assets.

4) You’ve acquired new significant assets. Perhaps as a holiday season gift, you now have a new car or a new home, or you’ve acquired some other valuable item. How will you include these in your estate plan?

Be sure to contact us to make the most of your holiday season estate planning. We will help make sure that your estate plans are clear and thorough, reflecting your wishes and beneficial to you and your loved ones.