Law Office of Harvey L. Cox provides asset protection services from our offices in Waco and Round Rock, Texas.

Law Office of Harvey L. Cox provides asset protection services.

Estate Planning: What Is It And Why Do We Need It In Texas?

The basics of estate planning is about deciding who gets your assets upon your death. Therefore, you need to know what you own to plan for its proper distribution when you die.

Your beneficiaries are the people to whom you choose to leave your property. Most people know who their heirs are and have no problem creating a plan for those beneficiaries. Distribution plans can be simple, like leaving everything to your spouse. Alternatively, distribution plans can be elaborate, such as using trusts to pass property to family members over several generations.

On this page, you will learn about estate planning tools, the purpose of estate planning and the purpose of a will in Texas.

Why Is Estate Planning So Important?

If you do not have an estate plan, Texas law has one for you based on something called the Law of Descent and Distribution. The state’s plan determines who gets your property based on their relationship to you and the type of property you own.

For example, Bill and Julia have been married for twenty years. Together they have a son and a daughter. Bill also has two children from a prior relationship. Bill and Julia have approximately one million dollars in community assets. They each want their community property to go to the other upon the death of the first. They believe Texas law automatically gives the community property share of each of them to the other at death without them having to do anything. Because of this belief, Bill and Julia never get around to creating an estate plan. Bill dies without even a simple will. What happens to Bill’s half of the community property he owns with Julia? Does it automatically go to Julia, as he expected it would under Texas law? It does not. Bill’s half of the community property he owns with Julia goes to all four of his children in equal shares. Each of his children gets one-fourth of his one-half of the community property ($125,000 for each child). Julia keeps her one-half of the community estate ($500,000) but gets none of Bill’s community half ($500,000).

Bill and Julia’s failure to create an estate plan results in a division of their assets in a way they did not anticipate. They could have easily changed this result by having an estate plan that includes, at a minimum, a simple will or, for better protection, a family trust.

Can Estate Planning Benefit Me During My Lifetime?

A common misconception about estate planning is that you are only preparing for what happens after you die. The fact is that estate planning encompasses much more than that. I prefer to refer to the process as Asset Protection Planning. You want to create a plan that provides for distribution of your assets after death. Additionally, you also want to create a plan that provides benefits to you while you are still alive.

For example, what happens if you become incapacitated? Incapacitation comes in many forms. You could be involved in an accident that leaves you in a coma. You could develop Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or a host of other conditions that leave you unable to take care of yourself and your assets.

Asset Protection Planning takes all of those situations into consideration so that you have a plan that benefits you during your lifetime, not just at death.

What Is A Will And Is A Will Enough On Its Own In Texas?

A will is a written document that specifies who you want to handle your estate at your death and who gets your estate assets at your death. There are problems with wills.

  • A will does not provide for you.
  • A will does nothing for you.
  • You have to die for it to take effect.
  • A will does not help you if you become disabled in an accident, illness or old age.
  • A will does not provide for your loved ones.
  • A will should allow for you to efficiently leave property to your loved ones, but it rarely does that
  • Lawyers have a vested interest in probate, because the most significant expense is the attorney fees. Attorneys also charge for what amounts to clerical work.
  • The average time to close a probate case is 18-24 months, so you are not properly providing for your loved ones if you expose them to the probate process.
  • A will takes your family public.
  • Wills guarantee probate, which is a public process, meaning that anyone can see the property that you own, debts that you owe, and to whom you leave your property
  • Probate is a time-consuming process, also making it expensive. Attorney fees, court costs, appraiser fees, tax return preparation fees, etc. add to the cost.
  • The probate lawyers involved will be paid first, followed by taxes and creditors. Finally, your loved ones are paid the last.
  • A will may not work.
  • The term “simple will” is a misnomer, because there really is no such thing.
  • Any will is fraught with complex legal rules, most of which have been around for hundreds of years.
  • Many rules and legal requirements make it easy for disgruntled beneficiaries to file a will contest, and probate court is the perfect place for that.
  • The beneficiaries lose out, and nobody actually wins.
  • A will can be easily changed.
  • The survivor wins.

Leaving property through a will is like pouring a pitcher of water into cupped hands to take a drink. Most of the water falls on the floor and disappears before it can be properly used.

Estate Planning Frequently Asked Questions

At the Law Office of Harvey L. Cox, our attorney helps many people plan their estates. He often hears the following questions from his clients:

What does an estate plan do?

People use estate plans to make certain that their assets are transferred to the people they choose, minimize taxes and preserve their legacies.

What does an estate plan include?

A comprehensive estate plan is a set of legal documents that can include:

  • A last will and testament is typically the first document that people focus on when planning their estate. The will includes beneficiaries, assets and names an executor for the estate.
  • A trust is a legal document similar to a will, except that it can protect assets more strongly. Drafting a trust can also allow a grantor to give specific instructions as to how their assets are managed.
  • A power of attorney is a representative who has the authority to act on behalf of the testator (person who made the will). The representative can help manage a testator’s financial and health care decisions in a time of need.
  • An advance health care directive can help instruct what should happen if the testator were in a coma or vegetative state. This document is often used alongside a health care power of attorney.

An estate plan can stop at a will, but having each of these legal documents can help ensure that all of the clients’ needs and wants are met.

Where should I store my estate plan?

It is important to have an estate plan and any related documents, such as life insurance policies, deeds and passwords, stored in a safe location. Often, the best place to store these documents is in a home safe, filing cabinet or safe deposit box. Filing an estate plan with the local probate court or with an attorney can also be wise.

Should I share the details of my estate plan with my loved ones?

Hiding the details of your estate plan and its location can make it harder for people to find these documents and settle your estate. It may be prudent to be open about your wishes and to inform interested parties about their roles.

Contact Our Estate Planning Attorney For A Consultation

To learn more about how an estate planning lawyer in Texas can help you, an initial consultation is your next best step. Learn more about the estate planning process by calling our law firm at 866-799-2124 today.