Estate planning documents are prepared based on a snapshot of your life at the time you prepare them. The documents accomplished your goals and objectives then. But, life changes. While your estate plan may have achieved your objectives then, your goals now may be different. So, the documents you have may not accomplish your goals at this point in your life.
If you die without an Estate Plan, Texas law has a formula that determines the distribution of your assets. That formula does not consider your wishes or unique circumstances. The following summary explains how Texas law distributes your assets if you die without a plan.
All property left by a Will must go through probate. Probate is the legal process by which a Will is “proved” and accepted in court as a valid last testament of the deceased. Once the Will is proven to be valid, the legal process of administering the estate of the deceased begins. The administering process involves distributing property according to the Will. Probate can be a tedious and expensive proceeding.
John and Diane have been married for over 30 years. They have no children together, but each of them has two children from prior marriages. In their Wills, they provide for each other first and then leave the assets equally to all four children. What they don’t consider when drafting their Wills is that the survivor of the two of them can always change the Will to leave everything to only that survivor’s children.
I see a lot of poor writing when reviewing estate plans for clients. Most of the worst writing I see occurs when people attempt to write their Wills using forms found on the internet, including LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer. I addressed do-it-yourself estate planning in a previous post. In case you didn't see it or you've forgotten what I said, you should run, not walk away from forms found on the internet. Proper estate planning isn't as simple as a few fill-in-the-blank forms. You must know the legal effect of the wording that goes into your estate plan. You need an estate planning attorney to make sure the language in your estate plan correctly accomplishes what you want to achieve.
Contrary to popular opinion, your will doesn’t necessarily control how your assets pass at your death. You may hold most of your wealth in assets that pass outside of your will.
I discourage clients from planning their estates around specific assets. There may be a compelling reason to do it in rare instances, but in most cases, it can result in unintended consequences.
A Will is supposed to allow you to leave your property efficiently to your loved ones, but it rarely does that. Leaving property through a Will is like pouring a pitcher of water into cupped hands to take a drink. Most of the water spills onto the floor and disappears before you can use it properly.