Dealing with Non-Probate Assets| Houston Probate Lawyer

As a Houston probate lawyer, I am often asked if every asset a person owns will have to go through the probate process when they die. The short answer is that it depends.

While most real estate owned by a person does go through the Harris County probate court following the loss of a loved one, a few asset classes are exempt. They are referred to as non-probate assets.

Instead of being distributed through a will, non-probate assets are automatically transferred to the survivors/beneficiaries, outside of probate. The assets are transferred at the death of the testator regardless of any instructions in the will. As an example, if a husband and wife own a piece of property together, the property is automatically transferred to the surviving partner. There is no distribution of property needed.

There are other assets besides jointly owned assets that are distributed outside of probate. Any assets with a named beneficiary typically avoid probate. Life insurance is one such example where payouts go directly to the beneficiary. In addition, retirement money is a non-probate asset. Life estate and inter vivos trust also are considered non-probate assets.  Here is a brief list of the most common assets that are passed outside of Harris County probate for your reference:

  • Assets held in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship
  • Retirement accounts such as IRAs or 401(k)s that have a beneficiary named
  • Life insurance proceeds that do not have the estate named as a beneficiary
  • Assets held in a living trust
  • Money in a payable-on-death bank account (POD)
  • Securities, bonds, real estate, or other assets with a transfer-on-death provision
  • Pension plan distributions

Remember, non-probate assets are distributed immediately. Simply contacting the bank or company where the asset is located and presenting the death certificate is usually enough to get the ball rolling to distribute the funds. On the flip side, the probate process can take a year or more to get to the point where assets can be distributed to a beneficiary.

The good news is that there are ways to structure your assets so that none of them have to go through probate—even if the assets you are leaving to your loved ones fall outside of this list.  An attorney can help you utilize legal tools and planning to minimize your exposure to probate, or avoid it all together. But, only an experienced estate planning attorney can help you set up your assets to ensure that outcome.

If you would like to speak to a probate lawyer today to set up an estate plan to best protect your assets and minimize the impact of probate court, call our office at (281) 218-088 to set up a consultation.

 

Houston Will Lawyer: Estate Planning Is About Creating Your Legacy

As a Houston will lawyer, I would like to talk to you today about one of the most overlooked aspects of estate planning – the opportunity to create your legacy.

Believe it or not, creating a legacy is not all about having libraries and hospitals named after you. There are great ways that you can help your family remember your values and beliefs that will cost you little to nothing.

A very thoughtful (and completely free) way to create your legacy is to write annual letters to your children and other important people in your life.  These letters can be kept with your estate planning documents.  Then, each person will have a special message sharing your feelings and thoughts.

The letters do not have to be held back until your death, either. Many people choose to present the letters to their children upon graduation or on their wedding days.  Estate planning certainly deals with death, but it also gives us a reason to think about life and the way we want to live it.

Another way to create a legacy is to determine important causes in your life and then support them through your estate planning. Whether you are an avid contributor to the American Cancer Society or you have a soft spot for a local animal shelter, these are the kinds of non-profits and charities you can support to ensure your values are represented in your planning.

Many nonprofit organizations will happily work with you to put together some kind of a giving plan for your estate.  There may be tax benefits in addition to knowing that you are doing something important for the world.

A Houston will lawyer can also help you with setting up a family trust that can be used to further causes that you or your loved ones are passionate about.  This is a great way to build a legacy, not just for yourself, but for your entire family.  If you are unsure of how or why you should set up a family trust to create your legacy, definitely take the time to meet with a qualified estate planning lawyer.  He or she will likely have many other suggestions for ways to use your planning in order to help build your legacy.

Pros and Cons of Wills and Living Trusts | Harris County Will and Trust Lawyer

As a Harris County will and trust lawyer, I realize that those of us in the estate planning industry often use technical language or “legal jargon” that is hard for most people to understand when setting out to get their affairs in order.  In fact, even the words “estate planning” can confuse people by making seem like you only need to plan if you have a large estate.  Not true!

There are other terms that you have probably heard along the way that can be equally confusing, as they are similar in theory, but different in execution. For example:

  • Estate planning versus Asset Protection
  • Healthcare Directive versus Advanced Directive versus Living Will
  • Power of Attorney versus Executor of an Estate

However, there are probably two estate planning terms that you will hear more than any other; trust and will.  These are key documents that do essentially the same thing, in theory. They both specify your last wishes and appoint someone to carry them out. However, there are reasons you would choose one over the other and sometimes you might choose both!

Hopefully we can help you understand the basic differences so that you have an idea of which legal tool (or combination of tools) would be best for you and your family.

Living Trusts

Pros

  • Ensures privacy, keeps your affairs out of the public record and helps you avoid probate.
  • If you own property in another state, a living trust may keep you out of that state’s probate court.
  • Some trusts offer protection from creditors, lawsuits and predators during your life.
  • You can designate a person who can take over management of your assets in case you are unable to function or incapacitated during your
  • You may not need to hire a lawyer when it comes time to distribute your assets.

Cons

  • A living trust can be more expense to set up initially.
  • You will also have to transfer ownership of all assets that are placed in the trust.
  • It can make it more complicated if you want to refinance property.
  • You cannot create a guardian for your children in a living trust. (However, you would be able to add a designation of guardian to supplement your trust that would take care of this.)

Wills

Pros

  • Setting up a will is less expensive and much simpler.
  • Creditors can only bring claims against your estate for a certain period of time.
  • You may name a guardian for your children.
  • You do not need to transfer any property.

Cons

  • After probate, your will becomes a matter of public record.
  • Probate can be take years to resolve and can be expensive.
  • A will does nothing for you while you are Your loved ones will be unable to manage or transfer assets using your will if you are incapacitated and/or unable to function.

There is quite a bit more to it, but this gives you an idea of the different techniques. If you really want a plan in place that will work when you need it, it is best to talk to a Harris County will and trust lawyer. Only an attorney that has had extensive experience can understand the nuances that could impact whether you have solid plan or simply a stack of paper that will not stand up in court. We help families throughout Houston gain the peace of mind that only comes with knowing your family will be okay no matter what. Call us today and mention that you read this blog and we will give you a free consultation so you can start the ball rolling on this important task.

Houston Estate Lawyer: 3 Talking Points to Help Your Reluctant Spouse Get Serious About Estate Planning

Need help motivating your spouse to meet with a Houston Estate lawyer?  In my experience, I have found that the planning process is usually initiated by one spouse and is often met with hesitation by the other. It is understandable why one or both spouses would be reluctant to meet with an estate planner. Thinking about our death is scary, and many people will avoid any attempt to broach the subject.

Unfortunately, while we stick our heads in the sand, life continues to happen, and our need to create an estate plan does not lessen. But you know that, right? So, below I have laid out the top three excuses I hear, as well as a few quick talking points that you can use to help your spouse understand the necessity of planning for the future.

  1. We have plenty of time to deal with this…” is the most common objection to creating an estate plan. Most people want to wait until later in life before creating an estate plan, but this is a mistake. As you know, tragedy can strike at any time. People also mistakenly believe that they only need an estate plan if they have a great fortune. Estate planning is much more than dividing your assets. With an estate plan, you can can ensure that there are guardians named who can care for your kids if you die while they are still young, or appoint someone you trust to make financial or medical decisions if you are incapacitated.
  1. “If something happens to me, you (the spouse) will inherit everything anyway…” is another common excuse you might hear to avoid creating an estate plan. While the spouse will inherit the majority of the estate, this is not a good reason for not creating an estate plan. What if something happens to both partners? If you have children, who do you want to raise your them if something happens? With an estate plan, you can make your wishes known and avoid long and costly custody battles for your loved ones. If you are on a second marriage, then you won’t inherit without a plan.
  1. If all else fails, you can remind your spouse that you, in fact, already have an estate plan. You have the default estate plan created by the state of Texas, and the state does not take any of your wishes into consideration. The process of settling one’s estate through the courts is long, expensive, and stressful for your loved ones. With an estate plan, this can all be avoided. Children of second marriages are usually disinherited.

There are many more advantages to be gained from creating an estate plan and absolutely no advantages for doing nothing. An estate lawyer in Houston will be able to create a plan that is right for you and will never pressure you to into doing anything before you are really ready. Call our office today to start this difficult, but necessary, conversation.