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Houston Estate Planning Law Blog

A will is all I really need, right?

Let's begin this post with what we think should be a given: Adults, regardless of their level of income or size of estate, should have a will. That so many people in Houston and the surrounding communities don't have even this rudimentary estate planning document in place is disconcerting, especially since it does not take much to create.

However, while a will may be the foundational element of any estate plan, it would be a mistake to think that it represents the peak and pinnacle of possible actions. The array of tools available is broad and can be immensely confusing. That's why it's always wise to consult with an attorney, especially one with demonstrated experience and skill in estate planning matters.

The good news and bad news about parents aging

The aging process can be hard. Some people face it calmly. Others might be fearful. One thing is certain; aging is inevitable. What is less certain is how we deal with it.

The good news is that this is not new territory. Issues related to getting older have been understood for a long time. Texas attorneys with experience in elder law matters appreciate that concerns generally fall into four main categories; health care; housing; finances and, eventually, distribution of the estate.

There may be options if you don't have long-term care insurance

People are living longer today than they used to even 50 years ago. According to the Social Security Administration, the average man in Texas turning 65 today may expect to live another 19 years. The average woman can expect to live until age 86.6.

As much as we would all like to think that we will be hale and hearty our whole lives, it makes sense to plan for the possibility that we might require a certain amount of hands-on care in our final years. Such care is expensive now and will only become more so. With solid estate planning, however, it may be possible to marshal the necessary resources. In some cases, it might even be possible to structure things so that a person can become eligible for Medicaid support.

Timeshares: Secondary assets that can complicate Texas probate

Everyone in Texas probably has an ideal notion of what a vacation getaway should be. For some it might be a second home on the Gulf coast. For others, it might be a condo in the desert. Timeshare properties may be the allure for others. But as we wrote about back in February, such purchases can make things complicated in probate if the owner dies.

This is especially true for any real estate that might exist in a state other than Texas. Whether it is a business asset, some sort of investment or a vacation property, the fact that it is in another state means another jurisdiction is involved. Every state has its own laws regarding probate and they can raise questions about estate administration.

Is there a way to know if a loved one or I will suffer dementia?

There is no definitive test to tell you if someone is suffering from dementia. There are some cognitive tests that can be administered but as the National Center for Biotechnology Information acknowledges, many doctors hesitate to conduct them or even broach the issue with relatives of patients who may appear demented because of the distress it can cause. There is thus a major element of guesswork in making a diagnosis.

Still, there are things individuals can do to anticipate and plan for the possibility that someone could develop one of the various brain diseases that fall under the dementia umbrella. Considering the high cost of providing the care that's required and the fact that dementia leaves the stricken individual unable to make decisions for him or herself, it becomes clear that setting up the legal framework to support long-term care matters. Don't expect that Medicare will be enough to cover the tab.

Texas law sets priorities in how guardians are appointed

You may believe you know best when it comes to appointing a guardian for someone who needs one, but the state of Texas doesn't make the same assumption. State law lays out rather clear guidelines for courts as they are faced with deciding who should serve as a guardian.

Of course, as we noted in the previous post, the first thing that has to happen is that the court has to determine if and when a guardian is needed. The conditions for such an appointment might be that a minor child no longer has the benefit of either of his or her parents. In other situations, it might be that a person has become incapacitated due to injury or illness requiring that the naming of a guardian or conservator.

What does Texas law require in appointing a guardian?

Who needs a guardian? Most everyone in Texas would probably agree that children need guardians. But that's a role typically filled by one or both of the child's parents. Once a child becomes an adult that guardianship role may get taken off the parents' plate. However, if individuals can't take care of themselves for some reason, then the parent's guardian role might need to continue. A guardian might also need to be appointed if a loved one suddenly becomes incapacitated.

You may have heard of cases in which someone sought to have another person declared incapacitated and to have a guardian appointed to take care of their physical, medical and financial needs. Most of the time this is done with the best of intentions but sometimes the motivations aren't so altruistic. That's why Texas law requires certain criteria be met to prove a person is incapacitated and that a guardian is needed.

Create a will, other documents before traveling this summer

It is the time of year when many people in Texas are planning a vacation. While they consider destinations, lodging and entertainment, the importance of having a will and other estate planning documents may be far from their mind. However, some professionals advise that creating these documents could provide vacationers with peace of mind as they travel.

When traveling on roadways or in planes, a person could face additional risks. Also, while on vacation some people may tend to seek activities that could be more risky than their everyday activities. As a result, having estate planning documents up to date can ensure that a person's wishes are known in the event of an unexpected accident or illness. For example, having a will can help a person designate how one's assets will be distributed and who will serve as guardian of his or her children. A will could be especially important in cases of blended families as step-children, even those who a person raised from the time they were little, are likely not identified as heirs unless specified in a will.

A trust can help people in Texas manage their estate

When a person thinks of estate planning, the first thing that typically comes to mind is the creation of a last will and testament. While this is an important part of the process, the creation of other legal documents are just as important. For example, there are many people in Texas who choose to create a living trust in order to protect their estate and beneficiaries.

Despite the benefits of creating trusts, many people have some misconceptions about them. In most cases, creating one is a relatively simple process. Once the creator, also known as the grantor, decides the purpose of the trust and investment goals as well as who will serve as trustee, preparing the appropriate agreement is a relatively simple process for an experienced attorney. Unfortunately, some people believe that such an agreement is only for the wealthy. The fact is that many people, even those who do not have extreme wealth, have found a trust to be helpful in planning their estate and protecting their retirement savings, for example.

Estate planning for blended families in Texas

Families in Texas come in many different forms. While there are many traditional families, there are also blended families created by a parent's remarriage. These families may have unique estate planning needs in order to ensure that a person's wishes are known and followed after his or her death.

When remarrying, there are several issues that must be taken into consideration. One of those is whom to list as a beneficiary on retirement accounts, for example. These likely need to be updated to remove a former spouse. Additionally, it is necessary to decide how assets will be split. If there are children from a previous relationship, the person will likely want to ensure that those children as well as their current spouse are cared for if he or she should pass away.

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