Key Legal Considerations for Small Business Owners

Starting a business is an incredibly exciting venture. It can bring financial stability and independence and even a legacy for you to leave behind for your family. However, starting a business can also present unique legal challenges. Before you start operating your business, you must meet certain legal requirements. Below, our Houston business attorney outlines the checklist you need to make sure your small business is in compliance with the law.

Your Business Structure

One of the first things you must decide is the business structure you want to use. Your business structure will have a significant impact on your personal liability in the event of a business lawsuit, the manner in which you will run your business, your business taxes, and the people involved in your company. There are many different types of business structures, and they are as follows:

  • Sole proprietorship
  • General partnership
  • Corporation
  • Limited liability company
  • Limited partnership
  • Limited liability partnership

It is important to speak to a business attorney before choosing your business structure. An attorney can explain more about the different structures and help you determine which one is right for you.

Choosing Your Business Name

After determining which type of business structure you will use, you then need to think of a name for your business. The name of your business will depend on many factors, namely the type of business you are starting. For example, choosing a fun and playful name for your business may be appropriate if you are serving younger crowds or your products and services are not that serious in nature. On the other hand, if your business is more professional in nature, such as an accounting firm, you may want to choose a name that reflects that.

After deciding on a name, you will need to register and file the business name with your local county clerk’s office. You should also consider registering your business name as a trademark so you can use it exclusively.

Tax Considerations

All businesses in Texas and throughout the country have to pay taxes. You will need to obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) for tax purposes, as well as a sales tax permit if you are going to be selling taxable goods. For example, if you are opening a grocery store, basics such as flour, bread, and eggs are not subject to taxes. However, snack foods are taxable so you will have to obtain an EIN and a sales tax permit for the taxable goods you are selling.

Permits and Licenses

Texas law does not require you to obtain a general business license. However, depending on the type of business you are starting, you may need certain licenses and permits. These permits and licenses are issued by local councils. You may need zoning permits, health permits, building permits, occupational permits, tax permits, or signing permits. Our Houston business attorney can help you determine which permits and licenses you need so that once your business is in operation, it stays in operation.

Insurance Considerations

Texas law does not require many types of business insurance. For example, if you have employees, you can likely choose not to purchase workers’ compensation in the event that any of them become injured on the job. Purchasing workers’ compensation is not generally required of business owners in Texas. Still, there are certain types of insurance you should purchase to protect your business. If you do purchase workers’ comp, for instance, it can protect you from liability lawsuits in case one of your employees becomes hurt.

General liability insurance is also recommended for small business owners. This type of insurance can protect you from personal liability if someone becomes hurt on your business’ property. If your company uses vehicles to conduct business, you are also required to obtain commercial auto insurance.

Protect Your Intellectual Property

Your intellectual property is likely at the core of your business. It is the very thing that makes your business what it is, and what makes it stand out among your competition. Intellectual property can include trade secrets, trademarks, formulas, recipes, copyrights, and patents. Filing a patent can take as long as five years, so it is important that you start this process right away.

Making sure that your intellectual property is protected can attract investors in the future, but it also provides you with the reassurance that you will be able to keep operating your business in the same manner. For example, if you are a restaurant and do not protect the secret recipe that contributes to your success, someone else could use it in the future. In fact, they may even be able to patent it to prevent you from using it even though you were the one who created it.

Draft an Employee Handbook

It is important to draft an employee handbook that outlines your business’ policies, and the rights and responsibilities of your workers. For example, an employee handbook can outline the protocol to follow if a worker feels as though they were a victim of sexual harassment or discrimination. 

In addition to creating an employee handbook, you should also review it regularly and make the necessary revisions to ensure that your company is in compliance with federal, state, and local laws. If you do not give every worker their own individual handbook, you should keep a copy in a visible place that is easily accessible, such as a staff room.

Our Business Attorney in Houston Can Advise You of the Key Legal Considerations

Starting a business is exciting, but there are many legal considerations, as well. It is important that you know what these are so you and your company are protected. At Integrity Law Group, PLLC, our Houston business attorney can answer your questions, make recommendations, and make sure you are in compliance with all of the laws that affect your business. Call us now at (832) 280-8874 or fill out our online form to schedule a consultation with our experienced attorney and get the legal help you need.

Understanding Child Custody Laws: A Parent’s Guide

Whether you are getting a divorce or have a paternity issue, you will have to resolve the matter of child custody. In Texas, child custody is known as ‘conservatorship,’ although many people simply refer to it as ‘custody.’ Below, our Houston family law attorney outlines the different types of custody, how the process works, and what you can expect as an outcome.

Different Types of Child Custody in Texas

There are two main types of custody in Texas. These are legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody gives one or both parents the right to make decisions regarding the child and their day-to-day life. When a parent has legal custody, they can make decisions about the child’s medical treatments, the education the child receives, the religion they are raised in, and other activities.

Physical custody refers to when a parent spends time with the child. In the majority of cases, both parents are awarded joint custody, meaning they will each spend approximately the same amount of time with the child. In the rarest of cases, the courts may completely deny one parent visitation or any access to the child at all. In these instances, it is usually due to domestic violence and abuse. 

Sole custody, which refers to a situation in which one parent lives with the child and makes decisions for them, typically requires the other parent to terminate their rights. This is extremely rare. It is also very difficult to prove that one parent deserves sole custody and the other does not deserve their parental rights.

The courts are much more likely to award joint custody when the parents can show that they are willing to work together in the best interests of the child. Additionally, when the parent who does not have primary custody can continue to live close to the child, they will likely be awarded more time with the child than one who moves further away from their child.

The Best Interests of the Child

In Texas, as in all other states, all child custody decisions are made based on what is in the best interests of the child. The factors that impact the best interests of the child are as follows:

  • The age and health of the child,
  • The age and health of the parents,
  • Whether the parents or the child has special needs,
  • The home environment each parent can provide the child with,
  • The relationship between the child and their siblings or other family members,
  • The preference of the child, depending on their age and maturity,
  • Any history of domestic violence,
  • Where the parent lives and works and how it impacts the amount of time they spend with the child,
  • The educational needs of the child,
  • The level of involvement each child has in their child’s life, and
  • Any other factor deemed relevant by the court.

How Does the Child Custody Process Work in Texas?

Child custody disputes in Texas begin when one parent files a petition for conservatorship with the court. The person who files must officially serve the other parent with the petition. The parent who is served then has 20 days to submit an answer to the court. If the parent who is served with the petition does not intend to contest the terms within the petition, they can waive the need for service.

If a child custody case is uncontested, both parents will agree on a custody schedule and parenting plan. When the parents cannot reach an agreement, it becomes a contested case, and more formal intervention is necessary. The court will likely begin a disputed child custody case by sending it to mediation. During mediation, the two parents and their lawyers will meet with a neutral third-party mediator. Mediators do not provide legal advice or make decisions. They only try to foster communication and compromise so the parents can ultimately reach an agreement.

When parents can agree, either before or after mediation, they will need to draft a parenting plan and submit it to the court. If the plan reflects the best interests of the child, and is fair to both parents, the court will approve the plan. To ensure this happens and that the process moves along as quickly as possible, it is important to work with a Houston family law attorney who can help you create your plan.

There are times when the parents cannot agree and mediation is unsuccessful. In these cases, the issue will have to be resolved in court, where a judge will make all final decisions.

How to Modify Child Custody Orders in Texas

Even when parents agree on a parenting plan, a judge will issue an order that makes the plan final and legally binding. However, just as with everything else in life, your circumstances may change at some point in the future. When this happens, you may want to change your child custody schedule. You can do this, but you cannot do it on your own.

To modify a child custody order, you must petition the court. This essentially means that you are asking the court for permission to change the order. When petitioning the court, you must present clear evidence showing why a change is necessary and argue your case. If you are successful with your case, the judge will modify the order, and the change will become legal.

Without petitioning the court, it is critical to keep custody arrangements the same. If you make changes on your own, you will be in violation of the custody order, and this carries serious penalties. These include high fines, being held in contempt of court, and even jail time. 

Our Family Law Attorney in Houston Can Help With Your Custody Matter

Whether you have an initial custody issue or you need to modify an order, our Houston family law attorney at Integrity Law Group, PLLC, can help. Our experienced attorney can help you draft a plan, petition for a modification, and ensure you receive the best possible outcome. Call us now at (832) 280-8874 or fill out our online form to schedule a consultation and to get more information.

Essential Steps in Estate Planning: Securing Your Family’s Future

Financially speaking, the laws in Texas regarding the bequeathal of assets are relatively forgiving. In the Lone Star State, there are no estate or inheritance taxes, which can make things easier for your loved ones after you pass away. Still, do not be fooled into thinking that because of this, it is not worthwhile to put time and effort into planning for your estate. Nor should you think the process is always straightforward. Below, our Houston estate planning attorney outlines the most important steps to take when planning for the future.

Create an Inventory of Your Tangible and Intangible Assets

Estate planning begins with taking a comprehensive inventory of your tangible and intangible assets. It may be obvious that you include certain types of property, such as valuable jewelry, real estate, bank accounts, art, electronics, and vehicles. However, there are also certain types of intangible property that you should also consider and include within your inventory. Intangible property you will have to account for includes cryptocurrency, social media accounts, and life insurance policies and annuities.

Create an Inventory of Your Debts

Just as you should create an inventory of all of your assets, it is just as important to create an inventory of your debts. Your debts may include credit cards, mortgage and auto loans, other open lines of credit, and other types of debts. Along with the different types of debt you currently carry, you should also include contact information for creditors and other holders of debt, as well as any relevant account numbers.

Name Your Beneficiaries

When you name beneficiaries, you designate the individuals or entities who will receive your tangible and intangible property as part of their inheritance. You should carefully consider who you want to name as your beneficiaries. While loved ones are the obvious choice for many people, you can also name friends, charities, trusts, and organizations. Along with naming your beneficiaries, you should also specify the tangible and intangible assets you want them to receive.

Meet With Your Financial Planner or CPA

Meeting with your Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or financial planner early in the process can make it easier to review your earnings and optimize them, consider additional savings tools, and consolidate accounts. Meeting with a financial professional can also help you determine if you want to take more advanced steps in the future, such as setting up a revocable or irrevocable trust. When taking these steps, it is always recommended that you speak with a Houston estate planning attorney.

Outline Your Goals for Estate Planning

Different people have different goals for estate planning, and it is important to determine yours early in the process. You may want to use your estate plan to avoid family disputes in the future, make sure your property is passed on to your heirs and beneficiaries, or provide financial security for your family members. Whatever your goals are, define them early, and they will guide you through the rest of the process.

Name Your Fiduciaries

Your fiduciaries are individuals or entities who will manage you, your property, or your money in the event that you pass away or become incapacitated and cannot manage them yourself. Your fiduciaries may include:

  • A guardian of your children
  • Financial power of attorney
  • Medical power of attorney
  • Executor
  • Trustees

The above entities have a legal duty to manage you, your loved ones, or your assets for your benefit and not for theirs. Due to this, it is critical that you are very cautious when naming your fiduciaries and that you only name people whom you deeply trust and who you know will respect your wishes.

Meet With an Attorney Who Can Help You Create an Estate Plan

To ensure that your estate planning documents are legal and enforceable, it is critical that you work with a Houston estate planning attorney who can help you finalize your plan and draft legal documents. The tasks an attorney can help with include, but are not limited to:

  • Drafting legal directives
  • Naming beneficiaries in transfer on death (TOD) deeds
  • Drafting your last will and testament
  • Assigning powers of attorney (POA)
  • Creating medical directives
  • Creating trusts
  • Understanding the business entity and asset protection
  • Forming a family limited partnership

Working with an attorney can also make sure you fully understand all of your legal options. A lawyer can also help you create important documents that will protect your loved ones from challenges during the probate process. When your documents have been drafted by an attorney, it will be easier for your beneficiaries to prove the validity of them.

Execute Your Plan

After completing the complicated process of planning your estate, there is just one more step you have left to take, and that is to execute your estate plan. This step can involve many details, which may include:

  • Signing documents
  • Funding trusts
  • Transferring assets
  • Updating beneficiary designations

An estate planning lawyer can help you with the above tasks and identify anything else that must be done to execute your estate.

Periodically Review Your Plan

Many people think that estate planning is a ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ type of task. It is not. The purpose of estate planning is to get your affairs in order before you pass away or become incapacitated, and those plans may very well change in the future. You should review your estate plan any time there is a significant life event such as a birth, death, divorce, or marriage. Even without these important life events occurring, it is still advisable that you review your plan every two to three years to ensure it still reflects your wishes.

Our Estate Planning Attorney in Houston Can Help

Estate planning can be complex and overwhelming. At Integrity Law Group, PLLC, our Houston estate planning attorney can help reduce the stress when creating your plan and make sure it includes everything necessary to make sure you and your family are protected. Call us now at (832) 263-1828 or contact us online to schedule a consultation and to get the legal help you need.

How to Handle Contractual Infringements by Your Business Partner

After forming a business partnership, the parties often draft a formal partnership agreement. The main purpose of a partnership agreement is to detail each party’s rights and responsibilities and outline what will happen if one party breaches the agreement. A breach of a contract agreement is very difficult for all parties. Below, our Houston business law attorney outlines the steps to take after a contractual infringement by your business partner.

What is Included in a Partnership Agreement?

Forming a business partnership is about so much more than simply doing business together. It is also about establishing a contractual business relationship. The priorities and preferences of the parties involved guide the particular terms of a partnership agreement. The majority of contracts between business partners answer the following questions:

  • Which party or parties have financially contributed to the partnership, and how much were those contributions worth?
  • Which party or parties have agreed to make continuing financial contributions?
  • Is the partnership a limited partnership, a general partnership, or another form of partnership?
  • What are the legal rights and obligations of each partner?
  • How much compensation will each partner receive?
  • How will an infringement of a partnership agreement be resolved?
  • What are each of the partners’ fiduciary duties to the partnership?
  • Who has the right to vote, the obligation to vote, and when?
  • How can someone become a partner?

A properly drafted agreement with well-defined terms makes all the difference when an infringement occurs. Our Houston business law attorney can draft an agreement that will limit disputes and outline how to resolve them if they arise.

Why Do Contractual Infringements Arise?

A contractual infringement in a business partnership can happen for a number of reasons. The most common of these include:

  • Missing or ambiguous terms: When a contract is not properly drafted, it can cause confusion between the parties about their legal rights and obligations under the agreement. Missing or ambiguous terms can cause disputes to arise between partners.
  • Using company funds improperly: Infringements can arise when a partner spends company funds unscrupulously or improperly. This can affect not only the partnership but also the relationships between the partners and other associates and the business as a whole.
  • Acting without authority: Any time a partner acts without authority, it can cause issues in the business. For example, one partner may become excited about a potential business deal and sign the business up for it without obtaining the appropriate permission from the other partners.
  • Failing to recognize or address conflicts of interest: Conflicts of interest can happen when one partner is presented with an opportunity in which they will personally benefit. This alone does not necessarily create a conflict of interest, but it can be a red flag. Partners who fail to address possible conflicts of interest can breach their ethical obligations to the business.

When any of the above contractual infringements occur, there are a number of ways to resolve them.

Filing a Claim for Breach of Contract

If your partner has acted outside of the terms of the partnership agreement, you or the business may have to file a lawsuit against your partner for breach of contract. A breach of contract action can include allegations that your partner acted in bad faith. 

Under Texas law, all business partners are required to act in good faith. Business partners owe a duty of care to the company. Depending on the specific issue, you may also have to file a claim for a breach of fiduciary duties against your business partner.

Negotiating a Settlement

Not all lawsuits will end up in the courtroom. You and your partner may be able to negotiate a settlement agreement. In most cases, settlements occur while a lawsuit is pending, but there are exceptions to this. During negotiations, the parties will define what happened and the possible remedy that may be appropriate. As part of a settlement, the partners involved typically agree to keep the settlement amount and other arrangements confidential.

Expelling the Infringing Partner from the Business

Depending on the specific circumstances and the terms of the partnership, it may be possible to remove the infringing partner from the business. The applicable law and the terms within the contract, such as a buy-sell agreement, may determine if this option is available to you.

Pursuing Damages

The best option for remediating harm sustained by the business may be to pursue damages from the infringing partner. Again, the terms of the partnership agreement and the applicable law may define the amount of damages that are available. A business law attorney can help you maximize the damages you can pursue.

What Happens if You and Your Partner Do Not Have a Formal Agreement?

It is always recommended that business partners draft an agreement in the event that a dispute arises. However, not all partners draft these contracts when forming a partnership. If this is the case for you, there are still possible options under the Texas Business Organizations Code if your business partner has acted improperly. 

The Code provides options if you have a partial or incomplete agreement. Under Section 152.211(a), you can move forward if your partner has violated any duties under the partnership. To understand what these are, it is important to work with a Houston business law attorney who can advise you or your legal options.

Our Business Law Attorney in Houston Can Help After a Contract Infringement

For business owners, there is nothing more important than protecting your business, your investments, and your business relationships. At Integrity Law Group, PLLC, our Houston business law attorney has the ability to draft an agreement for you that will help you accomplish all of these tasks. 

If your partner has already infringed on a contract, we can advise you of your legal options and the next steps to take, as well. Call us now at (832) 280-9197 or fill out our online form to schedule a consultation with our experienced attorney and learn more about how we can help.

Securing Your Legacy: The Advantages of Estate Planning

It is a common misconception that estate planning is only appropriate for the wealthy or people of a certain age, but these are common misconceptions. The main benefit of having an estate plan in place is to ensure that your last wishes are executed in the event that you pass away. Without an estate plan, your property is unprotected and the intestate succession laws will apply. This means people may inherit your assets, and those people may not align with your wishes.

In addition to making sure the appropriate loved ones receive their inheritance, an estate plan can also protect your beneficiaries from certain taxes and other legal requirements. Below, our Houston estate planning attorney outlines more benefits of having a plan in place.

Eliminate the Need for Your Family to Make Hard Decisions

Estate planning can provide your family with the peace of mind they will need following your death. If you do not have an estate plan in place, your family members will have to determine who will inherit certain property of yours, and this is often extremely stressful for families. By taking the time to create a comprehensive estate plan, you will retain control over what will happen to your property after you pass away.

Also, if you ever become incapacitated at some point in the future, your family will also have to make important medical decisions on your behalf. These decisions are also very difficult and your family may not know of your wishes. Through an estate plan, you can create a will, power of attorney, health care proxy, and a medical power of attorney. These important legal documents can dictate these decisions, so your loved ones do not have to make them. They can also give you the peace of mind you need during your lifetime.

Protect Your Children

If you still have minor children, an estate plan can determine what will happen to them if you pass away or become incapacitated and cannot care for them. For many parents, choosing a guardian for minor children is the most important aspect of estate planning. This is a decision that requires serious thought, as the impact on your children will be significant. Most parents want to make this decision on their own instead of the courts making the decision for them.

There are certain priorities the Texas courts give to family members when making decisions about guardianship. For example, in most cases, the courts will appoint a grandparent to become a guardian in the event that neither parent can care for their children. If you want someone else to become guardian of your children, it is critical that you create an estate plan that makes your wishes known.

Limit Taxes and Legal Fees

If you include certain documents in your estate plan, it can allow your beneficiaries to receive their inheritance in a timely manner. A trust, for example, will protect your family members from going through the probate process which can include legal fees, court costs, and attorney fees. Probate is not only an expensive process, but it is also a lengthy one. If your entire estate has to go through probate, it can take a long time for your beneficiaries to receive their inheritance.

Trusts do not have to go through the probate process and so, the inheritance you left for loved ones can be distributed to them directly. It is important to work with a Houston estate planning lawyer who can advise on the best ways to limit taxes and legal fees.

Make Specific Bequests

Individuals commonly want to include certain bequests in their estate plan. Bequests are any gifts given to beneficiaries as part of a will. Bequests can include prized vehicles, art collections, family heirlooms, antiques, and more. There are also many different types of bequests. For example, a residuary bequest grants a person any remaining portion of the estate once all other property has been distributed.

Name Your Own Personal Representative

One of the most important aspects of any estate planning is the naming of a personal representative. A personal representative of any estate has many responsibilities. They must pay the expenses and final costs of the deceased, manage the estate, handle creditor claims, and more. Personal representatives have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the estate, so it is essential that the person you choose is trustworthy.

Without an estate plan in place, the court will name a personal representative on your behalf. This may not be the person you would have chosen. Creating an estate plan during your lifetime will give you the reassurance that upon your death, your personal representative will be someone you trust to make the best decisions.

Continue Business Operations After Your Death

If you own and operate a business and you do not create an estate plan, there is a real possibility that your death may cause the business to shut down. This will not only create unnecessary financial hardship and stress for your loved ones, but it may also lead to your legacy being unprotected. If you do want to pass your business down to a loved one as an inheritance, creating an estate plan will ensure they receive it after your death and that your legacy will be protected. An estate plan can also leave specific instructions for the family member you want to take over the business, so they can run it just as successfully as you did.

Call Our Estate Planning Lawyer in Houston to Get Started Today

Regardless of your situation, it is essential that all adults have an estate plan in place. At Integrity Law Group, PLLC, our Houston estate planning lawyer can help you draft the important documents that will help your family members make difficult decisions, and that will ensure your final wishes are fulfilled. Call us now at (832) 280-8874 or contact us online to request a consultation with our experienced attorney and to obtain the legal advice you need.

Protecting Your Personal Assets in the Event of a Business Lawsuit

It is critical to protect your personal assets in business, particularly when you are facing a lawsuit. A lawsuit will be bad enough for your business, but you do not want it destroying your personal property, as well. Below, our Houston business law attorney outlines some of the best ways to protect your personal assets in the event of a business lawsuit.

Use Proper Business Entities

Using the right business entity is critical for protecting your personal property in the event of a business lawsuit. To give yourself peace of mind and a sense of security, you should consider all possible options before making a final decision, from limited partnerships to corporations to LLCs. Do not unnecessarily make yourself vulnerable. By establishing the proper business entity, you will have legal protection in the event of litigation or a business dispute. The different business entities and the protection they do or do not provide are as follows:

  • Sole proprietorships: As a sole proprietor, you and your personal assets have no protection in the event of a business lawsuit. One mistake can jeopardize your personal assets, as well as your business’ profits and income.
  • General partnerships: A business partnership can be profitable for all parties, but it can also come with some risks. If your business is sued, you and your partner could be held jointly liable, so it is important to choose partners carefully.
  • Limited partnerships: A limited partnership will allow you to enjoy the benefits of being an entrepreneur without exposing yourself to the risks associated with it. When you structure your business as a limited partnership, any lawsuits filed against the business do not extend to any assets outside of it. 
  • Corporations: Establishing a corporation is a great way to protect your personal assets in the event of a business lawsuit. Generally speaking, your personal assets are not vulnerable to a business lawsuit unless fraud is involved.
  • Limited Liability Companies: LLCs offer great asset protection, as well as flexible taxation options. Owners of an LLC can protect their business from creditors, who would only be awarded a membership interest without gaining control or access over the assets of the company.

Insurance

Certain professions, such as doctors, financial advisors, and real estate agents, are at particular risk of having a lawsuit filed against them. Insurance is very valuable when trying to protect your personal assets, so it is critical to ensure that coverage is sufficient and that it remains current. Sometimes, investing in extra coverage can be the difference between staying afloat or facing financial ruin during a lawsuit. The different types of insurance businesses may need are as follows:

  • Homeowners insurance
  • Commercial liability insurance
  • Worker’s compensation insurance
  • Auto insurance
  • Umbrella coverage
  • Long-term care insurance

Utilize Retirement Accounts to Protect Assets

Under federal law, retirement accounts offer a great deal of asset protection. Retirement plans that are ERISA-qualified have unlimited asset protection. It is critical to consult with a Texas business law attorney who knows the law and who can help determine whether creditors can choose between the federal and state exemption amounts.

Titling

You can protect property that is co-owned by looking at the titling options that are available. Tenancy by the entirety is an agreement between married couples that is legally binding and that protects the primary residence from a spouse’s creditors. This option does not always apply to investment properties, but there may be other forms of protection, such as tenants in common or joint tenancy, which can provide protection in the event the owner of the property passes away. To fully understand what title you need for your situation and to secure maximum asset protection, it is important to consult a lawyer who can help with these options.

Transfer Ownership to Family Members

Maintaining control of your assets is critical to ensure your financial security. By creating an irrevocable trust, you can place property into the trust, which protects it from creditor claims while also providing an inheritance or income stream for your family members and other loved ones in the future. This is only a viable option if you have sufficient funds, and the transfer of ownership will not leave you insolvent. Some of the most common types of trusts used to protect assets from lawsuits are as follows:

  • Domestic asset protection trust: This type of trust exists solely for the benefit of the person who created the trust. A domestic asset protection trust allows the creator to keep a certain degree of interest in the property in the trust. Unlike in other states, though, a domestic asset protection trust does not protect the creator if they are also the beneficiary of the trust.
  • Lifetime qualified terminable interest trust: A lifetime qualified terminable interest trust is for the benefit of the spouse, and they utilize the gift tax marital deduction to reduce overall taxes. This type of trust can also use the federal estate tax exemption for the less wealthy spouse and provide a lifetime of asset protection for the benefit of the wealthier spouse.
  • Medicaid planning trust: Through a Medicaid planning trust, a person can qualify for Medicaid and still maintain an income for the spouse who does not apply. When assets are transferred into these trusts, they can pass to heirs who are protected from the government’s estate recovery, which would require the Medicaid assets to be paid back during the lifetime of the creator.
  • Spousal lifetime access trust: A spousal lifetime access trust is created for the benefit of a spouse and uses the lifetime gift tax exemption as well as the annual exclusion gifts.

Our Business Law Attorney in Houston Can Help Protect Your Assets

As a business owner, it is important that you not only protect your company, but your personal property, as well. At Integrity Law Group, PLLC, our Houston business law attorney can advise on your case and suggest the best asset protection tools to use. Call us now at (832) 280-8874 or contact us online to schedule a consultation and to learn more.

Navigating Real Estate Legal Disputes: Answering the Top Five Questions

There are many different real estate legal disputes that can arise during any transaction. Clients and developers may have a disagreement while residential or commercial property is being developed. Landlords and tenants can argue about non-payment of rent or improper maintenance of the property. Neighbors can encroach on their neighbor’s property. These are just a few of the most common types of disputes.

Any real estate dispute can be confusing. They can even be damaging to your business or your property. It is important that you speak to a Texas real estate lawyer who can help you through the complicated process and answer all of your questions. Below, our seasoned attorney answers five of the top questions we hear.

What is Real Estate Litigation Law?

Real estate litigation is an area of law that addresses disputes involving actual property such as homes, commercial properties, buildings, and land in Texas. Real estate litigation law is intended to protect the rights of property owners and anyone who uses the property. Real estate litigation law governs multiple issues ranging from loans, mortgages, and liens to title disputes, real estate contracts, and landlord/tenant law. Real estate litigation law also provides a process for filing a lawsuit when a dispute requires a resolution, such as those that involve easements or boundary lines.

Real estate litigation is sometimes necessary when a property owner believes another party has violated their rights, such as another property owner, a municipality, or an insurance company. When a property owner feels they need to enforce their rights, they can file a lawsuit with the court. Real estate litigation law is a legal area that is extremely complicated and many people do not understand the laws or process to follow. A Texas real estate lawyer can make sure justice is served and that people’s rights are protected.

What are Common Real Estate Disputes?

Some of the most common real estate disputes involve titles and property rights. These disputes commonly arise when two or more parties disagree about the use or ownership of real property. Some of the most common disputes include quiet title actions, boundary line disputes, and landlord/tenant disputes.

Boundary line disputes occur when two or more parties disagree about the exact location of a property line. Quiet title actions occur when a person attempts to establish that they are the undisputed owner of a specific piece of land. Landlord/tenant disputes occur when a tenant and landlord disagree about issues such as possession, rent, or other matters regarding the rental of the property.

Other real estate issues include easement disputes, contract disputes, nuisance claims, and adverse possession claims. Easement disputes arise when two or more parties disagree about the use of property owned by another party, such as access to natural resources such as water and right of way. Contract disputes occur when two or more parties enter into a contract and disagree about the terms of the agreement. Nuisance claims occur when land is used in such a way that causes another person harm or distress. Adverse possession claims occur when someone hopes to gain ownership of land by using it regularly over a certain period of time.

What Steps Should I Take in a Real Estate Lawsuit?

Every real estate lawsuit will differ slightly from others, as the remedies available are unique to the specific disagreement. However, there are some general steps to take during the process. They are as follows:

  • Collect evidence: Before even filing a lawsuit, or responding to one, you should collect as much evidence as possible. Evidence can include contracts, photos, property records, or written correspondence between you and the other party. It can also be helpful to search public records to find important information on the title history of the property. The title history may offer information about liens, ownership, and encumbrances that can help a case.
  • Speak to a real estate litigation lawyer: You have the right to represent yourself during a real estate dispute, but it is not recommended. A real estate lawyer can review the facts of your case and provide sound advice regarding the best way to resolve the disagreement. Real estate lawsuits are very complicated and you will greatly benefit from the help of an experienced attorney.
  • Consider alternative dispute resolution methods: Not all real estate lawsuits end up in the courtroom. Alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation can resolve your disagreement in a faster and more cost-efficient manner.
  • File a lawsuit: A real estate litigation lawyer will know the process of filing your lawsuit with the court and fully outline your complaint as well as the remedy you are seeking.
  • Negotiate: You can negotiate with the other side to reach a settlement agreement at any point during the process. A real estate lawyer will have the necessary experience to negotiate a settlement that is fair.

How Long Does Real Estate Litigation Take?

No one can determine exactly how long your real estate lawsuit will take. The amount of time required depends on the type of dispute, the amount of research involved, and the willingness of all parties to reach an agreement. Still, real estate lawsuits can often take one year or more when they need to be resolved in a courtroom. After reviewing the facts of your case, a lawyer can provide an approximate timeline for your case.

Do You Need a Real Estate Lawyer in Texas?

Again, you are not required to have legal counsel to help with your real estate dispute. However, working with a Texas real estate lawyer will bring you many advantages. Real estate litigation is complicated and one mistake could hurt your case. At Integrity Law Group, PLLC, our experienced attorneys can draft your lawsuit, file it with the appropriate court, meet deadlines, and negotiate on your behalf as your case proceeds. Call us now at (832) 280-9576 or contact us online to request a consultation and to learn more about how we can help resolve your dispute.

The Benefits of Having a Prenuptial Agreement: Protecting Your Future Together

It is a stat no one wants to think about, particularly when they are planning a wedding, but approximately half of all marriages end in divorce. A prenuptial agreement is a legal contract between two people who intend to wed. Also called prenups, these contracts settle many important issues. Through a prenup, you can outline who owned certain property before the marriage, how marital property will be divided, and more. 

While you may not want to raise the topic of a prenup as you plan your wedding, these legal contracts have many benefits. Below, our Houston family law attorney outlines what these are.

Avoid a Complex Divorce

Not all divorces have to be messy legal battles. When there are feelings of frustration and hard feelings, or the two spouses are very contentious towards each other, a divorce can become much more complicated. Add financial issues to these feelings of resentment, and a divorce case can become explosive. A prenuptial agreement can help you avoid all of this. With most financial issues outlined in the prenup, many of them are already resolved and your divorce can simply follow what the document stipulates.

Young Couples Can Benefit From a Prenup

 It is a common misconception that prenuptial agreements are best utilized by older couples. Today, many younger people are marrying later in life than their parents and grandparents did. When a person marries in their late 20s, early 30s, or even later, they have typically already amassed a significant amount of wealth and assets. A prenup can protect your existing investments and assets, including business ownership, inheritance rights, and other sources of wealth.

Older Couples Also Benefit

Anyone getting married can benefit from a prenuptial agreement, including older couples. When older couples wed, it is often their second or third marriage. Unfortunately, the divorce rate for these marriages is much higher than that of first marriages. A prenuptial agreement can make the divorce process much easier if the marriage does not work out. Additionally, older couples have also had more time to accumulate wealth, and a prenup can protect it.

Determine the Division of Marital Assets

The division of marital assets is one of the most complex issues during divorce. A prenup can outline how you will divide them in the event your marriage does not work out. For example, if you are a business owner and plan on operating it after you get married, a portion of the company will be considered a marital asset if you get a divorce. A prenup can stipulate that you retain all rights to the business after the marriage and that your spouse does not have a claim to any portion of it.

Resolve Spousal Maintenance Issues

A Houston family law attorney will tell you that you cannot include any provisions pertaining to child support in a prenuptial agreement. This is because the child has a right to support, and parents cannot waive that right on their behalf. However, a prenuptial agreement can resolve issues regarding spousal maintenance, commonly referred to as alimony. 

This is of particular importance when one spouse is planning to leave the workforce to maintain the home and take care of the children. Due to the fact that the stay-at-home spouse may have a reduced earning capacity post-divorce, a prenup can provide them with the spousal support they need.

Protect Against Your Spouse’s Debt

One of the main purposes of a prenuptial agreement is to determine how assets will be divided during divorce. However, these contracts can also protect you from being liable for your spouse’s debt. On average, American households carry approximately $140,000 in debt. If your soon-to-be spouse carries a lot of debt, or they will in the future, a prenup can protect you from it. For example, if you know your spouse is going to go to school during the marriage and will use student loans, a prenup can ensure you will not have to pay that debt post-divorce.

Clarify Financial Expectations

When drafting a prenup, you and your partner will have to disclose financial information, such as the assets and debt you currently have. While this process may not sound very romantic, that is not the case. In fact, a prenup can foster open communication and help you and your partner have a better understanding of the other’s obligations, financial goals, and responsibilities. If you can address these financial issues before the wedding, it can help you reduce misunderstandings and conflicts about money during the marriage.

Protecting Beneficiaries

It is not uncommon today for people to have children from another relationship when they marry. In these instances, a prenup can be especially valuable. A prenuptial agreement can define how assets will be distributed in the event of divorce or death, and provide for each of your beneficiaries, including children from a previous relationship. This can provide both of you with peace of mind and help you avoid future disagreements about financial support or inheritances.

Making the Marriage About the Relationship

If you have a great deal more wealth than your partner, a prenuptial agreement can make sure your property and assets are protected. It will also give you the peace of mind that your partner is marrying you for love, and not for what you own.

Providing an Easy Way Out

It is a sad but true fact that many people remain in unhappy marriages because they do not think they can financially support themselves. Or, one spouse may have become accustomed to a certain standard of living during the marriage and do not want to give that up. A prenuptial agreement can give both parties the confidence to leave a marriage in the event it ever becomes unhealthy.

Our Family Law Attorney in Houston Can Draft Your Agreement

A prenup can provide you with a great deal of protection, but they must be drafted properly in order for them to be enforced. At Integrity Law Group, PLLC, our Houston family law attorney can draft a contract that will protect your best interests now and in the future. Call us today at (832) 263-1828, or fill out our online form to schedule a consultation and learn more.

Estate Planning 101: Answering the Top Five Questions

You have likely heard about estate planning and the importance of it. Considering that estate planning encompasses wills, powers of attorney, and thinking about the probate process, it is not always straightforward. If you have thought about planning for your estate, you likely have many questions. Below, our Houston estate planning lawyer outlines the five most common questions we hear and the answers to them.

When Should You Create an Estate Plan?

Planning your estate is a task that is easy to keep putting off. Many people think there is not an urgent need to plan their estate, particularly if they do not have a family or have not amassed a substantial amount of wealth. However, this is not the case. You should consider planning your estate as important as planning for retirement, health care, and your finances.

All adults can benefit immensely from a comprehensive estate plan. Of course, if you have a lot of assets, it is even more important to have an estate plan in place. Likewise, if you have minor children, you should create an estate plan that names the guardian you would like to raise and care for them. Still, having substantial property or a family is certainly not a prerequisite for creating an estate plan. If you are an adult, you need an estate plan, regardless of your income, assets, or age.

Should You Share Details of Your Estate Plan With Loved Ones?

Whether you share the details of your estate plan with your loved ones or not is a personal decision. It can be uncomfortable to discuss your final wishes with your family members, and they may not even be open to hearing about it. Still, discussing your estate plan with loved ones does have many benefits.

For example, if there are people you think will be unhappy with your estate plan, now may be the time for transparency. You can explain your reasoning for the decisions you made, and it may even help your beneficiaries avoid challenges and contests to your will or other parts of your estate plan in the future. Instead, you can deal with any disputes directly now.

What Tools Should You Include in Your Estate Plan?

It is no small task to plan your estate, as it needs to be specific to you and your own personal situation. Due to the fact that everyone has different circumstances and, therefore, they require a unique estate plan, there are no real requirements to include. Still, there are some elements that are commonly included in estate plans. These include:

  • Your last will and testament, which is often the foundation of many estate plans,
  • Trusts, such as testamentary trusts, asset protection trusts, Crummey trusts, special needs trusts, charitable trusts, and more,
  • Funeral arrangements,
  • Retirement planning,
  • Medicaid and Medicare planning, and 
  • Advanced health directives, such as health care power of attorney and medical power of attorney

You may not need to include all of the above elements in your estate plan. You may also give some elements more importance and precedence than others, depending on your own personal situation. For example, if you have health concerns, you should include provisions in the event that you become incapacitated. If your assets largely include real estate properties, on the other hand, you may be more concerned about creating trusts that will protect those assets now and in the future. You should always speak to a Houston estate planning lawyer who can advise on the elements that may be most important for your plan.

Should You Include a Durable Power of Attorney in Your Estate Plan?

A durable power of attorney gives another person the legal authority to make decisions for you in the event that you cannot make them for yourself. If you do not include a durable power of attorney in your estate plan, the court will appoint one for you if you become incapacitated. The court may not appoint someone that you would have chosen, and the court process can be more costly than simply drafting a durable power of attorney.

When choosing a power of attorney, it is critical that you name someone you trust implicitly. They will have your safety and well-being in their hands, and you want to make sure they understand and will carry out your wishes. Being someone’s power of attorney can also be very stressful, as it is a huge responsibility. Speak to the person you are considering appointing to make sure that they are willing and able to take on the task so you can inform them about your wishes.

How Often Should You Review Your Estate Plan?

Unfortunately, drafting an estate plan is not a ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ matter. The only constant in life is change, and you will need to adjust your plan accordingly from time to time. Any time there is a major life event, such as a birth or divorce, you will want to review your estate plan. For example, if you have left assets to your daughter and her husband and they divorce, you may want to change your will to disinherit your son-in-law. Or, if a new baby is born, you may want to create a trust so you can leave certain assets to them.

Even when there are no major life events, you should still review your estate plan fairly regularly. You can review it annually or semi-annually at the same time you review your financial plan. For estate planning purposes specifically, you should review your plan at least every three to five years.

Our Estate Planning Lawyer in Houston Can Answer Your Questions

If you are thinking about planning your estate, you likely have many questions. At Integrity Law Group, PLLC, our Houston estate planning lawyer can answer them and help you draft a plan that will protect you and your loved ones. Call us now at (832) 280-9576 or contact us online to request a consultation and obtain the legal advice you need.

The Impact of Divorce on Your Last Will and Testament

Under state law in Texas, a divorce or annulment of a marriage will revoke any portion of a will that involves a former spouse. For example, if you left everything to your spouse and did not change your will after you divorce, those provisions would be revoked. Your assets would then be distributed according to the intestacy laws in the state. Although your spouse will not receive any of your property if you pass away, it is still of critical importance that you update your will after divorce.

Reasons to Update Your Will After Divorce

There are many reasons to update your will after divorce. They include:

  • Protect your child’s inheritance: Reviewing and updating your will after ending your marriage will allow you to make sure that any inheritance left to your children is protected. If your children are still minors, you may want to consider establishing a trust for your children, which may require you to appoint a new trustee.
  • Appoint a new executor: It is not uncommon for spouses to name each other as executors of their will and estate. Also review any trusts you have created, as you may have to appoint new trustees, as well.
  • Add or remove beneficiaries: One of the main purposes of a will is to provide for your beneficiaries in the event that you pass away. After a divorce, you may want to add beneficiaries or remove them, particularly if you left property to people on your former spouse’s side of the family.
  • Prevent challenges to the will: If you do not update your will after divorce, it may be easier for your former spouse or other family members to challenge it. Updating your will ensures that you can clearly outline your intentions and preferences and minimize the chance of challenges and other disputes arising.

The above are just a few reasons to review your will after your divorce. A lawyer can review the document with you and advise of the necessary changes to make to ensure your best interests are protected.

Other Estate Planning Tools to Review After Divorce

Your will is not the only estate planning tool you should update after your divorce. Other important documents to review and change, if needed, include:

  • Beneficiary designations on policies and accounts: If you listed your former spouse as a beneficiary on an insurance policy or retirement account, they may still receive funds if you pass away, as the law does nothing to change that. As such, it is critical that you review these accounts and policies and make the necessary changes to reflect your current wishes.
  • Advance directives and powers of attorney: If your former spouse is appointed as your power of attorney, or you named them as your agent to make healthcare decisions on your behalf, it is important to change these documents so you can choose another person to have this authority. Always make sure you choose a person you trust in your advance directive or as your power of attorney, which is likely no longer your former spouse.
  • Tax considerations: A divorce can have tax implications for your estate, as well as any beneficiaries you have appointed. It is important to speak to an experienced attorney who can advise on your estate and any tax implications you may not have known about or have not considered.

How to Update Your Will After Divorce in Texas

While you may know that it is important to update your will after divorce, you may not know how to do it. The main steps involved are as follows:

  • Review your existing will: Of course, to know which changes you need to make to your existing will, you first have to review it. Read through your current will carefully and identify any provisions you would like to change. Any terms involving your former spouse will need to be changed, but now is a good time to determine if you need to make any other changes, as well.
  • Contact an experienced family law attorney: A family law attorney can guide you through the divorce process and help you obtain the fair settlement you deserve. After your divorce, however, an attorney can also help you navigate the process of making changes to or updating your will to make sure it complies with state law and is enforceable.
  • Create a new will or codicil: A lawyer can assist you with drafting a new will or creating a codicil. A codicil is an amendment to your current will. Regardless of whether you creating an entirely new will or making amendments, the document should distinctly state the changes you want to make. A lawyer will also inform you of how to execute the will so it complies with state law. For example, you may have to sign your will in the presence of two witnesses in order for it to be enforceable.
  • Store your new will in a safe place: You should keep your will in a secure place, such as at your attorney’s office or in a safety deposit box. Your lawyer can advise on whether you should destroy previous versions of your will. Sometimes, this is beneficial, but if there is any question of the validity of a new will, it can be useful to retain previous versions. Working closely with an attorney can ensure the validity of a new will is not brought into question.

Our Estate Planning Lawyer in Houston Can Help Update Your Will

If you have recently gotten a divorce, you should not overlook the importance of updating your will. It is important to ensure your wishes are fulfilled, and our Houston estate planning lawyer at Integrity Law Group can help you navigate the process. Our attorney has the necessary experience to make sure your will is valid and executed properly so it is not subject to challenges in the future. Call us now at (832) 280-9576 or fill out our online form to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can help.

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