Month: August 2017

Houston Special Needs Lawyers: Creating a Special Needs Trust or “SNT?” for Your Child with Disabilities

One of the tasks an estate lawyer in Houston may handle is estate planning for children with disabilities. Children with disabilities need ongoing care, including financial care, throughout their lives. The best course of action for a parent of a disabled child is to speak to an estate lawyer in Houston to establish a special needs trust (“SNT”). An SNT makes sure that your child benefits from your estate without making them ineligible for SSI or Medicaid benefits.

Estate planning is complicated enough, but trying to do your best by your child can make your head spin. Willing them a lump sum, property, or other wealth directly may disqualify them from SSI and Medicaid and puts in their hands assets they may not be able to properly handle. However, if you leave them nothing, then they are without the financial security you have provided for your other children. If you give the assets you intend for your child with disabilities to their siblings for safekeeping, it legally becomes the siblings’ property. It won’t be protected from the siblings’ creditors, and it may be considered communal or joint property if the sibling is married when they receive it.

The best solution is to create a third-party special needs trust or SNT. A trust is an asset administered by a third-party trustee on behalf of a beneficiary. The third-party trustee is someone besides you (the benefactor) or the beneficiary (your child with special needs). Anyone you choose, including one or more of your other children, can agree to be a trustee. The trustee doesn’t own the assets, and they can’t make decisions that are against the beneficiary’s interests. The money in the trust is belongs to the trust and is spent solely on behalf of the beneficiary.

An estate lawyer in Houston can create a third-party SNT for your child with disabilities. Assets in a third-party SNT come from someone other than the beneficiary. They are also not used to determine your child’s eligibility for SSI and Medicaid. This is because the beneficiary, your child with special needs, doesn’t actually own the assets in the trust, so it is not considered a personal asset when determining eligibility for benefits. The trust can help to cover costs beyond what Medicaid and SSI provide, like dental care, transportation, and private nursing or care.

For example, a father may hire an estate lawyer to create a third-party SNT for his son with disabilities son who lives in an assisted living facility. Medicaid contributes nothing to the cost of assisted living, and SSI only covers a portion of the cost. The SNT, however, covers the rest of the cost. It also covers costs for things like dental cleanings, new clothes, and entertainment.

An estate lawyer in Houston who is experienced in creating a third party SNT can help you provide for your child with special needs. They can help you give your child all the benefit you can provide without forcing him or her to give up other benefit.

Harris County Probate Law – The Basics

Probate law varies from state to state, but there are several things that you and your Harris County probate lawyer can expect to happen during the process.  The following is a simple breakdown of some of the most common aspects of probate law in Texas.

First of all, probate is the name of the legal process that takes place to distribute a person’s estate once he or she has passed away.  With some exceptions, such as trusts, life insurance payments, retirement plans, and a few other things, all of a person’s assets must go through this process in order to ensure they are being distributed legally.  An “estate” is not just a term used for rich people.  The majority of the assets left behind—houses, vehicles, money, personal property, retirement accounts, etc. are all considered part of the estate.

Once an individual passes away, someone will need to petition the court to be named as the Executor of the estate.  Typically, this is a family member or close friend of the deceased.  If the deceased had a will, he or she will likely have chosen the person they want to fulfill that role.  If not, however, the courts will decide who should have the position if multiple people step forward.  This person will work closely with the probate lawyer throughout the process.  It is a big responsibility and can be time consuming.

Again, if there was a will, then one of the first steps the executor and the Harris County probate lawyer will do is to “prove” that the will is valid; this is the first part of the court process.  They will then compile a list of assets, debts, and heirs to be presented to the courts.  The executor and probate lawyer are also charged with alerting creditors and family members of the death.

Because the probate process can take a considerable amount of time, it is also the executor’s job to manage the assets of the estate throughout the legal proceedings.  Many people find that this job is much easier under the guidance of the probate lawyer, as the attorney will likely have far more experience than the executor.

Based on debts and assets, the personal representative will have to determine whether or not assets will need to be sold to pay for outstanding debts, including taxes.  The representative is also required to have all the assets appraised for value.  If there is a will that bequests money to heirs that is currently tied up in investments, then the probate lawyer will also help the executor sell those assets to meet the terms of the will.

A good Harris County probate lawyer will be able to guide the representative when it comes to how to manage, sell, and distribute assets according to the findings of the courts.  Once all the property has been distributed, the executor and probate lawyer will follow up to make sure the estate is “closed.”

If you would like to talk to an experienced Harris County probate lawyer, feel free to call us (281) 218-0880. With the mention of this article, we will be happy to offer you a free consultation.

Estate Planning for Women | Houston Will and Trust Lawyer

Houston will and trust lawyers recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to estate plans.  Every situation is different, and each person needs individualized attention.  While there are services that offer cookie-cutter forms that will supposedly allow you to set up a decent plan, there is no comparison to working with an actual estate planning attorney who can work with human understanding to meet your real needs.

For example, the needs of women have been changing dramatically over the past several years.  Gone are the days when a woman was expected to stay home and live on an “allowance” if her husband chose to give her one.  Instead, so many women today have their own jobs, their own finances, and their own desire to protect their assets.

Older Women and Widows

Statistics show us that women typically live longer than men. So, in the case where the couple created an estate plan while both were living, once the husband passes away, she will need to update it since the widow has an entirely new set of needs.  She needs to make sure that her estate is able to support her as costs continue to rise, as well as to determine what she would like to have happen to her assets after her own death.  She may even need assistance to understand the estate and how to handle the finances.  This is especially true and frightening for the woman who has never handled the finances.

Younger Women

There are plenty of reasons that a younger woman needs to meet with a Houston will and trust lawyer. In the case of a single mother, nominating a guardian for her kids is critical in case of the mother’s death or incapacitation.  If a guardian is not legally named, the courts will step in and choose a guardian for the child without taking the mother’s wishes into consideration. An estate planning attorney may also advise younger mothers to consider setting up a trust for their child(ren) and maybe even to look into life insurance policies that could be used to fund the child(ren)’s future.

Whether married or not, many younger women have careers and would benefit from retirement planning in this earlier stage of life.  By being proactive early on, a woman can set up her 401k and other accounts to make sure she realizes her long-term financial goals.  Looking to retire young, to pay for your kids’ college, or to travel the world?  A Houston will and trust lawyer can help put things in motion now to make that a reality later.

If you have a significant other in your life, it makes sense for the two of you to work together with the estate planning attorney to make sure that your goals align and that your plans are compatible.  Your attorney can help you properly deal with “his, hers, and ours” to ensure that your assets are titled properly and that your financial house together is built on a solid foundation.

We have years of experience helping women in Houston plan for their future. If you are ready to get started, call our office at (281) 218-0880 and schedule a free consultation.

Encourage Your Parents to Meet with a Houston Elder Law Attorney Early to Avoid Serious Complications

Unfortunately, many elderly people wait until they are already experiencing problems to meet with a Houston elder law attorney. The reason this is so tragic is because by then it may be too late to put a plan in place that would help them as they go through the difficult stages of life they will soon experience. Without a plan in place, the family’s life can hit a tailspin when the elderly parent is diagnosed with a serious medical issue. The adult children suddenly become caregivers which can wreak havoc on their own family and the elderly person can be facing sudden changes in living arrangements and everything else they know.

At our offices, we have seen many situations where the family waited too long to get our help. We find that the reasons given for waiting so long vary a bit, but here are a few that are very common.

A slow decline becomes an instant problem.

It is not unusual for older people to become forgetful; they say it is a normal part of aging. It is easy to overlook some of the benign behavior like forgetting birthdays and missing appointments. But, many families do not realize the extent of the elder’s problem until something major happens – like they struggle to find their way home or they forget to turn off the stove. If you see signs of memory problems in your parents, take them to their doctor for a full medical evaluation and get them to a qualified elder law attorney in Houston. The attorney can only help you if the elder is capable of legally signing documents.

The elder fears losing control.

It is really hard to modify the parent-child dynamic. Even as an adult, your parents may still see you as their child who needs them. Other times, it can be difficult for formally independent people to ask for help – especially from their kids. The best way I have found to help here is to simply explain to them that by planning their future now, they are actually staying in control of their future. Planning now means they get to pick their living arrangements, the type of medical care they would like and even the type of intervention they would want at the end. There is really no better way to stay in control of your destiny!

They want to keep their private information private.

Many elderly individuals tend to be very private about their finances. Discussing money with children can be an uncomfortable topic as many in their generation found it improper. Or, they may be embarrassed that their financial situation is not what they wanted it to be. Either way, this is a barrier I encourage you to get past. Not having access to financial information is a great deal of stress on adult children who are suddenly left with incapacitated parents. One way I have worked through this with families is to let the elder know that they can work with a qualified elder law attorney who will keep their information confidential until such time as it is necessary for their designated representative (it may or may not be their child) needs it.

Breaking though these challenges can be very difficult on your own. Our Houston elder attorneys have experience discussing these and other uncomfortable topics and have a great track record of putting families at ease. Do your parents a favor and encourage them to get started. Planning early will give them the opportunity to make their own decisions about the future of their finances. Give us a call today at (281) 218-0880.