At Estes Law Office, P.L.L.C., we have purposefully limited our practice areas to the following:
Estate planning (preparation of Wills, trusts, powers of attorney, etc.)
Guardianship (contested and uncontested)
Wills and Trusts
What is a Will?
A Will is a document by which a person directs his or her estate to be distributed upon death. A valid Will avoids many of the problems that may arise from dying intestate (without a Will) and allows a person to leave property to the persons he or she desires. In addition to naming the recipients of the testator’s property, the Will may also:
Designate the individual who will manage the affairs of the Estate (the "Executor");
Name the person who will care for any minor children (the "Guardian");
Name the person who will manage the minor's inherited assets (the "Trustee").
What is a Trust?
A trust is a legal entity created by a party (the “trustor”) through which a second party (the “trustee”) holds the right to manage the trustor's assets or property for the benefit of a third party (the “beneficiary”). The four main types of trusts are:
Living Trust: a trust created by the trustor while he or she is alive.
Testamentary Trust: a trust established through a Will and which comes into effect (is created) when the trustor dies.
Revocable Trust: a trust that can be modified or terminated by the trustor after its creation.
Irrevocable Trust: a trust that cannot be modified or terminated by the trustor after its creation.
A Will can also set up a trust, a method by which property is held by one party (the Trustee) for the benefit of another. To establish a trust, the testator transfers property, with the specific intent to create a trust, to the Trustee who manages and administers the property for the benefit of named beneficiaries. A testamentary trust arises under a Will and becomes effective when the testator dies. A trust is an effective way of managing property for the benefit of minor or incapacitated persons or persons who are incapable of managing their own financial affairs.
A trust is also useful to prevent a spendthrift child from immediately spending his or her inheritance by preserving the funds for the child’s education or other important needs. Further, a trust may be used to protect the child’s inheritance from the claims of his or her creditors because property placed in a trust generally may not be reached by a beneficiary’s creditors until it is distributed to the beneficiary. There also are many other legitimate reasons to create a trust in a Will.
In order to determine whether which estate planning tool is the right choice for you and your family, you need to speak to an attorney that is experienced in estate planning.
I'm not wealthy, do I still need a Will?
In most cases, a Will is one of the most important documents that you will sign during your lifetime. If you are married, own property, or have children, Wills are very helpful in ensuring that your estate is passed to your loved ones in the most cost-effective manner. Wills are not just for those who are wealthy, they are an effective tool for people who wish to protect their family and those that they love.
Without a Will, state law governs who inherits your property;
Without a Will, your family may need to have a court determine heirship in your estate, which can be very expensive;
With a Will, you decide who inherits your property and administers the affairs of your estate;
With a Will, you protect your family from expensive proceedings caused by intestacy (dying without a Will);
A Will protects your family whenever you die;
A Will makes administration of your Estate after death much more simple;
A Will does not mean you are planning to die soon.
What is a Codicil?
A Codicil is a supplement or addition to a Will, not necessarily disposing of the entire estate but modifying, explaining, or otherwise qualifying the Will in some way. Codicils are effective for amending or revising portions of your Will. It must be executed with the same formality necessary for a Will. When admitted to probate, the Codicil becomes a part of the Will.
A Will should be reviewed if:
You get married or divorced;
You move to another state (probate law is state specific);
The person named in your Will as Executor has died or is incapacitated;
A person named in your Will to receive property has died or is incapacitated and cannot manage property;
You change your mind about the provisions in your Will.
What is a Living Will?
Black's Law Dictionary defines a Living Will as an instrument, signed with the formalities necessary for a Will, by which a person states the intention to refuse medical treatment and to release healthcare providers from all liability if the person becomes both terminally ill and unable to communicate such a refusal. Other names for a Living Will are "Advance Directive" and "Directive to Physicians". A Living Will is not filed in probate and copies are usually provided to the physician and hospital.
Where should I keep my Will and other estate planning documents?
You should keep the original Will and estate planning documents in a safe place where they will be easy to find if they are needed. Access to your estate planning documents is essential. The best and most convenient place to store your Will and other estate planning documents is in a fireproof safe in your home. It is a good idea to tell some one where your documents are stored in the event that they are needed.
Other storage options:
Place the Will in safekeeping at the County Clerk's Probate Office. There is typically a one time fee for this service. The Will remains secured in a vault until you claim the document or until an authorized person claims it upon your death in order to probate the Will.
Place in a safe deposit box at a financial institution. Storing your Will and estate planning documents in a safe deposit box at a financial institution is not the most preferable choice due to the fact that access to the documents is limited, which can be problematic in some situations. If you choose to place your Will in a safe deposit box, you need to list additional persons that will be able to access your safe deposit box and withdraw your Will. A Motion and Court Order will be required for the Will to be removed from the safe deposit box if no other parties are listed on your safe deposit box account.
What does it mean when it says someone died intestate?
Intestate is the term for one who has died without a valid will.
What does the term, "probate" mean?
Probate is a process of distributing someone's property after his or her death. It provides an orderly way to transfer real and personal property. The probate process may be used whether someone has left a Will or not.
What does the term, "Testator" mean?
Testator is the term for a person who dies leaving a Will.
What does the term, "Distributee" mean?
A Distributee is a beneficiary entitled to payment. An "heir" is the term for one who obtains property from the estate of an intestate decedent.
Whether you just need a simple Will or more complex estate planning, Estes Law Office, P.L.L.C. excels at preparing a customized estate plan that protects you, your loved ones, and protects your estate. If you have questions about your estate plan, schedule a free consultation with Estes Law Office, P.L.L.C. today.
Powers of Attorney and other Disability Documents
Due to the fact that disability affects a large percentage of people at some point during their lifetime, it is important to have disability documents in place as part of your estate plan should you ever become incapacitated. If you do not have the proper disability documents in place, you may need to have a Court appoint a guardian for you if you should ever become incapacitated. Powers of attorney are an effective tool in most cases to avoid guardianship.
Guardianships are typically not preferable due to the fact that they are (1) very expensive and (2) a person lacks control of who the Court will appoint as their Guardian. It is always better for you to choose who will manage your affairs. The following disability documents are recommended:
Statutory Durable Power of Attorney (financial power of attorney) - appoints an agent to manage your finances upon your incapacity.
Medical Power of Attorney - appoints an agent to communicate healthcare decisions upon your incapacity.
Directive to Physicians (Living Will) - communicates your decision as to whether or not you wish to be kept on life support if you are deemed to have a terminal or irreversible medical condition.
HIPAA authorization form - allows you to name individuals who can have access to your medical information so that your health care provider will not have any reservations about sharing your protected medical information with them.
Declaration of Guardian - names a guardian in the event that you are incapacitated and need to have a guardian appointed by the court on your behalf.
If you have any questions about powers of attorney or other disability documents, contact our office today. We'll be happy to discuss them with you and explain how you can best protect yourself and your family.
Probate is the legal process by which a person's estate is administered after they die. During the probate process, if there is a Will then (1) the Will is proved valid or invalid, (2) a person’s debts are paid, and (3) assets are distributed. If a person dies intestate, which means without a valid Will, then Texas intestacy laws will determine who inherits from the deceased.
Individual state laws direct the probate court how to distribute the deceased’s estate. Fortunately, Texas has a simple and cost-effective process to probate a properly drafted Will. However, state laws and procedures vary greatly, so it is important to consult a firm with expertise in this area of the law to ensure that the deceased’s assets are distributed correctly and in accordance with Texas law.
An informative resource about probate in Texas published by the State Bar of Texas: Texas Probate Passport
If you have any questions about the probate process, call our office today. We would be happy to schedule a free consultation with you to discuss what probate options (if any) might be best in your situation.
What is a guardianship and how do they work?
A guardianship is a court-supervised administration for a minor or for an incapacitated person. A person, called the "guardian", is appointed by a court to care for the person and/or property of the minor or incapacitated person, which is called the "ward". In some other states, guardianships are called conservatorships. However, in Texas they are called guardianships.
What types of guardianships are there?
There are two types of guardians and guardianships. A guardian appointed to take care of the physical well-being of a ward is called a "guardian of the person", while a guardian appointed to take care of the ward’s property is called a "guardian of the estate." In some cases, only one type of guardian is appointed for a particular ward. In many cases, both a guardian of the person and a guardian of the estate is appointed for a ward. In many cases, both the guardian of the person and the guardian of the estate are the same person. However, this is not always the case.
I think I know someone who meets the definition of an incapacitated person. What must I do to get a guardian appointed?
Texas law has very specific procedures in place for proving the need for a guardianship and getting a guardian appointed. These procedures are too complicated for a lay person to undertake without a lawyer’s help. In fact, most courts will not entertain guardianship applications filed by non-lawyers.
If you have a question about whether a guardianship may be necessary in your situation, contact our office and schedule a free consultation today.
Challenging a Will can be difficult, and without the assistance of an experienced attorney, you could be facing an uphill battle in the Texas probate courts. Estes Law Office, P.L.L.C. can help you obtain the resolution that you are seeking. We are proud to provide our clients with outstanding legal counsel who excel at representing Executors or beneficiaries in contested probate matters.
If you have a question or concern regarding a Will, do not hesitate to schedule a free case evaluation to have your case reviewed.
How We Can Help You
An experienced attorney will fully review your situation to help ensure that your rights, assets and property are protected and that the deceased's affairs
are properly handled according to federal and state laws.
There are numerous reasons that a Will may be contested. A few common reasons are:
1. The Testator of the Will was not of sound mind when the Will was executed;
2. The Will does not meet the minimum requirements to be a valid Texas Will;
3. Ambiguity in the Will regarding disposition of assets;
4. Fraud involved in the execution of the Will or the drafting of the Will;
5. There is a more current Will that supersedes the existing Will.
6. Undue influence exerted on the Testator (was forced to created the Will by use of force, fear or threat).
If you have questions or concerns regarding a Will or the administration of a Will, it is critical that you immediately contact Estes Law Office, P.L.L.C. Our law firm is committed to ensuring that the rights of each individual are fully protected. For more information on how Estes Law Office, P.L.L.C. can assist you, contact our office today.