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An Estate Plan Makes Things Easy for Your Loved Ones
  • By: Harvey L. Cox, Esq.
  • Published: September 30, 2021

I regularly meet with clients who want to take preventative measures to ensure their families are not burdened if they become incapacitated or die. The most common question I hear is, "What do I need to do to make it easy for my loved ones?" I do have a few recommendations. 1. Prepare an Estate Plan If you die without a valid estate plan in Texas, the law determines how to divide your property. The statutory formula that determines the distribution of your property does not consider your wishes or your unique circumstances, often leading to a different outcome than you would expect or want. Also, the process of settling your estate without a plan in place will be significantly…Read More

The Difficulty of Life-or-Death Decisions
  • By: Harvey L. Cox, Esq.
  • Published: September 24, 2021

During my initial consultation with clients, I always discuss the various documents that should be part of a comprehensive estate plan. As I explain the purpose of each document, I find that the Directive to Physicians, also known as a Living Will, generates the most discussion. It's also the document clients have the most difficulty signing. This document creates such a "flurry" of discussion because it forces you to consider that one day you may be hospitalized in an unconscious state with no hope of recovery. And, it puts you in the position to decide how and when to end your life before that happens. Thinking about issues like this can and should make you think deeply and ask a…Read More

Estate Planning Is Not Just for the Rich
  • By: Harvey L. Cox, Esq.
  • Published: September 8, 2021

There is a common misconception "out there" that estate planning is just for the rich. Let me clear that up. Estate planning is NOT just for the rich. It's for everyone. That's right, everyone. It doesn't matter what you do for a living, whether you have a dozen kids or no kids, whether you think you have an estate to plan or not, estate planning is for you. What Is Estate Planning? Estate planning is nothing more than a plan that protects your loved ones when you die. Notice, I said, "when" you die, not "if" you die. Death is a certainty for all of us. So, we should all plan for it. If you have a plan for when…Read More

Is It Time to Update Your Estate Plan?
  • By: Harvey L. Cox, Esq.
  • Published: September 3, 2021

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. Time brings changes in tax, property, probate, or other laws which could impact your estate plan. In 2000, for example, the estate tax exemption was $675,000 per person. A substantial estate would have pushed an individual estate over the estate tax threshold. Many estate plans at the time included provisions to deal with and minimize estate tax liability. Tax…Read More

Dying Without an Estate Plan in Texas
  • By: Harvey L. Cox, Esq.
  • Published: August 23, 2021

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. Rules for a Single Person with No Children If you are single and have no children, your property distribution will be as follows: If both of your parents are alive, your assets pass to them in equal shares. If only one parent is alive and you do not have siblings, your property goes to your living parent. If you have siblings, or descendants of your siblings, i.e., nieces and nephews, your surviving parent receives one-half…Read More

A Word About Probate
  • By: Harvey L. Cox, Esq.
  • Published: August 20, 2021

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. The critical thing to know about probate is that it is unnecessary. You can plan your estate in such a way that you avoid probate altogether. The probate process is costly, time-consuming, and provides no benefits to your beneficiaries. The process is nothing more than a clerical and administrative process.…Read More

Understanding the Tax Consequences of Gifts
  • By: Harvey L. Cox, Esq.
  • Published: August 18, 2021

Example: Janet is diagnosed with terminal cancer. She has three grown children. Janet heard that her children would likely spend thousands of dollars to probate her estate after her death. Since her only real asset is her family home, she is concerned that they will spend too much on probate to get the house in their names. Janet also heard that she can help her children avoid probate by deeding the home to them while she is still alive. Janet hires a lawyer to prepare a deed transferring her home to her children while she is still alive. Janet is fortunate that none of her children were going through a divorce, dealing with tax liens, or dealing with lawsuits for…Read More

Ya Gotta Realize that Wills Are Easily Changed
  • By: Harvey L. Cox, Esq.
  • Published: August 12, 2021

Example: 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. In this situation, a Trust can help protect children from a prior marriage. One option is for John and Diane to establish separate Trusts. They can, of course, do a mutual Trust being careful to list their individual assets on a different property schedule. John…Read More

Be Aware of Poor Writing
  • By: Harvey L. Cox, Esq.
  • Published: August 5, 2021

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.…Read More

If You're Using Beneficiary Designations as Your ONLY Plan, You May Create Problems for Your Family
  • By: Harvey L. Cox, Esq.
  • Published: July 30, 2021

An effortless and straightforward way to plan for the passing of your estate is to use beneficiary designations. The problem is that beneficiary designations don't handle contingencies very well. Example: You have a son and a daughter. You name them both as beneficiaries of your life insurance policy. Your daughter predeceases you. What happens to the proceeds of your life insurance upon your death? Do you think the insurance company will pay all of the policy to your son? Or, will the insurance company understand that you want your predeceased daughter's share to go to her children? Most people think the insurance company will pay your predeceased daughter's share to her children. But that isn't what happens. The insurance company…Read More

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