More formally known as a last will and testament, a will is an important document with many purposes. For many individuals, once they are adult enough to recognize the inevitability of their own mortality, the need for a will is what brings them to an estate planning attorney in the first place. If you live in Houston or its surrounding area, contacting Hegwood Law Group may be one of the wisest choices you ever make. Not only are our capable estate planning attorneys well-prepared to assist you in executing a carefully worded, legally binding will, we are also dedicated to protecting your assets from potential problems. We will help you prepare for and focus on all possible contingencies ranging from illness to inheritance issues to excessive taxation, in order to keep you and your family safe.
What Does a Will Accomplish?
A will is designed for many purposes. It is the defining document stating your final wishes for how your property will be distributed after your death as well as who will handle your finances and perhaps even significant family responsibilities.
A will is designed to:
- Distribute your property to people and/or organizations you have chosen
- Name a guardian to care for your minor children (if necessary)
- Name an executor to manage your finances and implement the stipulations of your will
- Make your wishes known pertaining to your funeral, burial or cremation, and/or memorial
Note that if you do not name an executor in your will, the court will appoint one for you who may not be the person you would have chosen. Although in Texas it is possible to craft a will without an attorney, it is foolish to attempt this task without legal representation. Because it will affect your loved ones and your legacy after you are gone, too much is at stake to view creating a will as a do-it-yourself project.
Legal Requirements for a Valid Will in Texas
For a will to be valid in Texas, the testator must either be at least 18 years of age, be (or have been) legally married, or serve in the military. This is known as “legal capacity.” He or she must also be “of sound mind,” a condition known as “testamentary capacity,” and as well as be aware of all aspects of the act being performed, known as “testamentary intent.”
In addition, the will must be signed in the presence of two adult witnesses over the age of 14 who must also sign the will themselves. It is not necessary to have your will notarized in Texas, but if all three parties sign the will in front of a notary, it is possible to expedite the probate process. If your will has been so notarized, the court will accept it as “self-proving” and will not have to contact the witnesses who signed it. The same is true if you write your will in your own handwriting (holographically) before two witnesses and a notary. It should go without saying, however, that it is much safer to make sure your will is valid by having a well-reputed attorney create and execute it.
The court-supervised process of distributing the estate of a person recently deceased is known as probate and in many states can be costly and time-consuming. Fortunately, Texas has a reputation for having a simpler probate process than most states. Even in the Lone Star State, however, having a valid will makes the probate process move along more smoothly than it otherwise would.
Once a will has been probated, the executor is tasked with paying any outstanding debts of the estate and any outstanding taxes. Then he or she is free to distribute the deceased’s property according to the provisions of the will.
In Texas, similarly to other states, if you die without a will (intestate), the state will decide how your property will be distributed according to strict legal guidelines. State law will give your property first to your spouse and children, then to your grandchildren or parents. State protocol requires that your assets are then distributed to relatives who are increasingly distant, eventually including your spouse’s relatives. Of course, this method of distribution will not even approximate your own desires since you may want to distribute your wealth in terms of emotional, rather than blood, ties. There is also the possibility that you want to prevent a close member of your family from being an heir to your estate, a decision that a will can make legally binding.
Beyond that, you should be aware that if you die intestate and do not have relatives in the picture, your property will find its way back into state government coffers. Perhaps even more disturbing, if you do not designate a guardian for your minor children and your spouse (or their other parent) is not around or has died, the court will place your children in the care of a person it deems appropriate, or even place the children in foster care.
Schedule a Consultation With a Houston Wills Attorney Today
Maybe the most important reason for leaving a will behind when you die is as a final act of concern and generosity for your loved ones. They will at least be able to grieve without added financial or logistical worries. It will give you peace of mind to know that you are making life go more smoothly for them at what will undoubtedly be a very difficult time. Get in touch with Hegwood Law Group’s compassionate, competent attorneys by phone or fill out one of the contact forms on our website.