Month: March 2017

Houston Will and Trust Lawyer Offers a Checklist for Trustees

If you have been asked to serve as trustee for someone’s trust, it is your responsibility to successfully carry out that person’s wishes, as well as follow state and federal laws. The role of trustee is an important one, and if you have never served as a trustee before, you may be thinking, “Where do I start?!” As a Houston Will and Trust lawyer, I hope to provide you some guidance in this area.

We get calls from concerned trustees often and understand that the job can be overwhelming. Our first bit of advice to you is: breathe!  You will get through this.  Next, begin working through the steps below.

  • Read the trust- The trust will have all the information you need to carry out the wishes of your loved one. It is important to read it carefully so that you fully understand what is expected of you.
  • Create a checking account for the trust- A checking account should be set up with the money from the estate. You will need funds to make distributions and payments, and you will want to keep track of them in a checking account that is solely used for purposes of the estate.
  • Think of the beneficiary’s interests- You have a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the trust, so it is important to always think of their interest when it comes to the trust.
  • No personal finance dealings with the trust– This one may seem obvious, but it should still be stated that you should not borrow money or lend money to anyone from the trust.
  • Provide anyone listed in the trust with a report of annual account activity- You can simply provide a copy of the checking and investment account statements, or, if you wish, you can present a more formal trust report prepared by an accountant or attorney.
  • Invest trust funds prudently and productively– For this step we strongly suggest that you consult with an investment professional. It is important to invest the funds wisely and have a diverse portfolio, but steer clear of anything too risky.
  • Stay in contact with the beneficiaries– It is important to understand the needs of the beneficiaries since ultimately you are working for them. Keep them informed.
  • Be aware of any beneficiaries receiving public funds– If any of the trust’s beneficiaries receive public assistance, you need to make sure any proceeds of the trust do not jeopardize their benefits. This is especially important when it comes to adults and children with disabilities.
  • File annual tax returns

Being a trustee is a big responsibility and hard work. But the good news is that you do not have to do it alone. Our Houston Will and Trust Lawyers can help you through the process to make sure that you are taking the right steps. Contact us today at (281) 218-0880 to schedule a free consultation.

Mom Might Have Dementia, Can She Still Write a Will in Texas?

If your elderly parent is becoming more forgetful or is demonstrating other unusual behavior, you should get them to a doctor right away to be checked for dementia. More than 3 million cases of dementia are diagnosed each year and is most prevalent among people 65 years old or older. Dementia is often overlooked at the beginning because sometimes the symptoms are very vague, but if caught early, there are steps that you can take to improve your loved one’s cognitive health.

Unfortunately, many people fail to put an estate plan in place and only take action during a medical crisis or after a diagnosis such as dementia. In some of those cases, it is too late due to the client’s diminished capacity. You should not, however, assume that it is always too late.

In order for the legal documents to be valid you must be able to prove that the signer had mental capacity at the time they signed. So even if an individual is suffering from dementia as long as they still have periods of lucidity they may still be competent enough to sign a will in Texas.

The following criteria must be met in order for an individual to be considered mentally competent:

  1. They understand the nature and extent of the property that they own.
  2. They remember who their relatives and descendants are and are able to select who should inherit their property.
  3. They understand the function of a will.
  4. They understand how all of these things are put together to form and estate plan.

It is extremely important that all 4 of these criteria are met when executing the will or you could be leaving the door open for other family members to contest the will. If the will is successfully contested it will be considered invalid and the estate would have to pass through the state’s intestacy laws. Or, if there was a prior valid will, that would be used to settle your parent’s estate. If your parent is showing early signs of dementia, call our office right away for a free consultation. We can make sure that your parent’s wishes are known and documented in a way that will avoid a court challenge.

Houston Estate Lawyer Answers, “How Does a Power of Attorney Document Work?

A power of attorney (POA) is a document that serves as a written authorization to represent or act on another’s behalf. However, a POA does not necessarily give someone the right to make all decisions. There are different type of POAs, and they have different rules determining the abilities of the person named as Power of Attorney.  As a Houston Estate Attorney, I want to be clear that if you are an agent under POA, it is important to know what decisions you can, and cannot make on behalf of the grantor. Here are a few frequently asked questions regarding POAs.

Do I have the authority to make medical or financial decisions for the grantor? Or both?

You can have either a financial or medical power of attorney. You may have already guessed but a financial power of attorney has authority over your financial matters and a medical power of attorney can have power over medical decisions. A medical power of attorney can have many different guidelines or limitations depending on the desires of the grantor. While it is possible that you have been granted the power to make both medical and financial decisions, it is important to point out that two different legal documents must be executed.

Does this Power of Attorney expire after a set time period or does it go on forever?

This can depend on the state you live in and what that state allows. If your power of attorney expires after a set time, it is important to renew or set up a new power of attorney at that time. If your power of attorney is durable that means that it will hold authority granted by the documents unless the individual chooses to revoke the power of attorney. If you do have a durable power of attorney it is still important to regularly review the document, as some instructions will not accept a power of attorney that is over a certain age, which is typically 12-24 months.

Is my Power of Attorney effective now or after a triggering event?

Many POAs are effective at the time that the document it executed. However, if you wish, you can make it effective only after a certain triggering event such as incapacity.

If you have been named as an agent under a POA for someone, be sure to periodically review the document with an experienced Houston estate attorney who can ensure that you have the decision making authority you need. If you do not have a POA, you should consider putting one in place to ensure that someone can speak for you if you are unable to speak for yourself. Contact us today at  (281) 218-0880 to get started.