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.

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.

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.

Debunking the Top Five Misconceptions About Estate Planning

There are many reasons people put off estate planning. Some people simply think the topic is too uncomfortable to talk about. Others are hesitant to embark on the process because of the many misconceptions and myths that are out there about estate planning. While some of these misconceptions sound reasonable, others are clearly untrue once you stop and really consider them.

Our Houston estate planning attorneys know the many reasons people put off estate planning for as long as possible. However, we also know how important it is for everyone to have an estate plan that protects them and their family for years to come. It is for this reason we have debunked the top five misconceptions we hear about estate planning so you understand the truth behind them.

MYTH: Only Certain People Need an Estate Plan

Perhaps the biggest misconception regarding estate planning is that only certain people need one. Some people think that only wealthy people with huge estates need to plan for them. Others believe that people only need an estate plan once they start to get older. 

The truth is, though, no one can predict the future and know when they will pass away. For this reason, everyone over the age of 18 years old should have an estate plan in place. An estate plan can make it easier for family members after a loved one passes away. It can allow them to avoid probate, and regardless of the assets within an estate, it also helps beneficiaries receive them sooner.

Tying into this myth is that only wealthy people need to have an estate plan. It is true that wealthy individuals will have more complex estate plans, but it is still important for individuals with smaller estates to have a plan in place. Anyone with a bank account, vehicle, or any other asset must have an estate plan. Without one, those assets can be tied up in the probate courts for months or years.

MYTH: Your Estate Plan Only Matters After You Pass Away

Some people do not think their estate plan will directly affect them. This misconception has largely been perpetuated by movies and television shows that depict family members finding a dusty copy of a will after someone has passed away. However, your estate plan could play an important role while you are still alive.

For example, if you create a living trust, it can become effective before you pass away. You can place property into the trust, and your beneficiaries can access the property once they reach a certain age or meet other milestones. Additionally, an estate plan can also include an advanced directive, which outlines your preferences for medical care in the event that you cannot make these decisions on your own. These are just two ways an estate plan can impact you while you are still alive, so it is important to create one as soon as possible.

MYTH: I Do Not Need an Estate Plan Because My Spouse Will Receive Everything

Without a will in place, your estate is subject to the intestate succession laws of the state. These laws do not necessarily allow your spouse to receive all of your property if they survive your death. 

For example, if you are in the difficult situation of wanting to disinherit your adult children, you must create a will that stipulates this. Otherwise, if you and your spouse had children together, they will automatically receive a portion of your estate. Your spouse will inherit all community property and 1/3 of your separate personal property. Your children will inherit everything else. If you have children, but they are not the children of your spouse, they will receive half of your community property.

If you have specific wishes, you must draft a will and use other estate planning tools to make sure they are fulfilled. When you do not, the state will determine how your estate is divided, which may not fall in line with your preferences.

MYTH: A Will is All You Need in an Estate Plan

It is true that wills form the foundations of many strong estate plans. It is also a fact that for some people, a will may be all they need. However, this is not true for everyone. There are many tools available for estate plans, and it is critical to speak to an attorney about the ones that are right for you.

For example, if you have very specific wishes for your end-of-life medical care, you may want to include an advanced directive in your estate plan. Or, if you have certain assets you want to shield from the probate process, a trust is a good tool that can help with that. If you are a business owner, you may want to create a succession plan to allow the transfer of ownership to proceed more smoothly. An attorney can examine your unique circumstances and advise on the tools that should be included in your plan.

MYTH: Drafting an Estate Plan is a ‘One and Done’ Process

Many people think that once they have created an estate plan, they can set it aside and never think about it again. This is simply not true. Estate plans need regular updating, and the documents within them are living documents and need to be changed whenever there is a major life change. Any time there is a birth, death, marriage, or other major change in your life, it is important to review your estate plan and update it when necessary. This is the only way to ensure your estate plan includes everything it should.

Call Our Estate Planning Lawyers in Houston Today

At Integrity Law Group, PLLC, our Houston estate planning lawyers can bust all the misconceptions about the process so you and your family are prepped for the future. Call us today at (832) 521-4201 or fill out our online form to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys and to learn more about how we can help with your case.

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