Monthly Archives: July 2013

Indian royalty’s 24-year will dispute slowly moving forward

This is not a story about a Stockton resident creating a will, nor about someone in El Paso making a sound estate plan; this is a story about royalty, riches and an estate worth nearly $3.1 billion. While the last will and testament of an Indian maharajah may not seem directly relevant to someone in Texas considering whether to draft a will, the two situations are not nearly as different as one might think.

The whole purpose of a will, whether it is for a Texan of modest means or a member of India’s noble class, is to deal with an individual’s estate and property. When a family member cuts someone out of the will, especially someone who normally would inherit, it can lead to a court battle, potentially lasting years.

For the two daughters of this former maharajah, their father’s will, which left one daughter nothing and the other a monthly stipened that is little more than $20, was disappointing to say the least. So, for the past 24 years, they have been fighting the will and the nobleman’s lawyers, arguing the will was fake. Recently, an Indian court agreed with the daughters, determining the will was forged and giving the daughters almost $3.1 billion.

The lawyers who originally were made responsible for the money, held in trust, have vowed to fight the ruling.

So, how does this apply to someone in Texas with a much smaller estate? Just like the maharajah, if someone drafts a will that leaves someone out, the individuals who do inherit may find themselves in court fighting for their inheritance. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney, however, can help protect against fighting, at least in the courtroom.

Source:The Guardian, “Maharajah’s daughters inherit £2bn after court battle over ‘forged’ will,” Jason Burke, July 29, 2013

Texans seeking to disinherit an heir have several options

While most people in Van Horn would like to think that families can get through anything together and that nothing can tear them apart, sometimes that just isn’t so. There are just some Texas families in which it is pretty clear that parents and children don’t get along, and sometimes parents want to make it explicitly clear that they don’t want a child to inherit anything. Just like any kind of specific request, the only way to truly ensure only certain heirs will receive property is through a thoughtful estate plan.

Before a parent chooses to disinherit an heir, however, it is important to look at the reasons why. There are many parents who don’t really want to disinherit a child, but they are so concerned that if the child were to inherit anything it would just go to his or her drug or alcohol habit. In a sense, the parent is trying to prevent harm to the child that would come with added income.

If this is the case, maybe disinheriting a child is not the best thing to do. Instead, the parent can set up a trust that has one important clause: the child must go to treatment and get clean before he or she receives any money. Not only would this prevent the child from harming him- or herself through, but would serve as an important incentive for the child to clean up his or her act.

There are many different reasons why a Van Horn parent may wish to disinherit a child, but regardless of the reason, it is wise for him or her to speak with an attorney to create an estate plan. By creating a narrowly tailored estate plan, someone can generally block anyone from inheriting that he or she wants.

Source:Bloomberg, “You Want to Cut Your Kid Out of Your Will. Or Do You?,” Lewis Braham, July 23, 2013

When Alzheimer’s disease hits, many patients may need guardians

Alzheimer’s disease is a brutal condition that can rob a person of his or her personality, memories and ability to function long before he or she will die. There are a number of people in Socorro who are diagnosed with this condition every year and they are just part of the approximately 35 million pepole who have dementia, the umbrella disease that Alzheimer’s is grouped under. For the loved ones of Alzheimer’s patients, watching them decline can be hard, but many also recognize just how important it is for these patients to have a guardian appointed.

When someone with Alzheimer’s can no longer do some of the things he or she could previously, like work or remember to pay the bills, it is important to have a guardian appointed. A guardian handles an individual’s needs, including both finances and health. Whether one guardian handles both or they are separated into guardians of the estate and guardians of the person, respectively, is a matter on which a guardianship attorney can advise.

For some people, Alzheimer’s is a slow degeneration, and they may notice changes to their memories and mental capacities over time. There is new research that indicates that those who are worried about their memory decline are frequently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s or Alzheimer’s a few years down the line. If someone knows that he or she will eventually be living with Alzheimer’s, he or she may also want to consider appointing someone as a power of attorney.

Like a guardian, someone with a power of attorney is able to make financial and health-related decisions on behalf of someone who is no longer capable of doing so alone. One of the major differences is, however, that an individual can choose who holds a power of attorney, rather than have a guardian appointed by the court.

Source:The Associated Press, “Memory decline may be earliest sign of dementia,” Marilynn Marchione, July 17, 2013

Planning for death: what to do with your emails?

It is a part of estate planning that no one in Texas would have thought of 40 years ago, but the problem of how to deal with emails and other digital information after death is something that many estate planning attorneys are now tackling. In an effort to help individuals contemplating what to do with their digital information after they have died, Google has recently released a tool that will delete or send your data along to another person after your death.

Planning for your death may seem morbid and something that many younger people in Fort Stockton don’t feel is that important, but there is no guarantee that everyone will live to a ripe old age. Sometimes, tragic accidents or illnesses take people who have no estate plan in place and there are very limited options with what to do with the person’s possessions. Creating an estate plan, however, protects the individuals’ wishes.

Part of those wishes may be that no one has access to emails, YouTube accounts and online profiles. Maybe there is some personal information in there, maybe there are some things that individuals just don’t want others to see. Regardless, using the Google Inactive Account Manager provides a way for individuals to protect their online information from family and friends after death.

On the other hand, however, there are some people in Fort Stockton who want family members or friends to have access to their emails and other online accounts after death, and this tool also gives them the ability to choose who can and who cannot have access. Ultimately, it is a matter of having a complete and thorough estate plan that protects individuals’ wishes after their death.

Source:CBS Pittsburgh, “Google launches digital afterlife manager,” April 13, 2013

Estate planning for some children requires careful consideration

For many parents in Odessa, trying to plan for a death can be difficult. Most parents may not think about what will happen to their children if they die, especially when they are young and healthy. Unfortunately, many Texans realize that an accident can happen at any point and strong estate planning is crucial to ensure one’s money is passed on to the right individuals. For the parents of special needs children, however, it is even more important to use the proper estate planning techniques so as to not interfere with federal disability benefits.

Setting up a third-party special needs trust can be a complex way to provide for special needs children after their parents’ death, but it is also an extremely effective way of protecting those children. These trusts will generally not prevent a special needs child from receiving Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid benefits, as the beneficiary does not own the funds, he or she merely receives monetary payments.

Setting these trusts up, however, require a detailed understanding of Texas estate planning law and usually require the assistance of a trust lawyer. Even if parents are familiar with the law, even the slightest error could prevent a child from receiving the money left to him or her, or could seriously change what sorts of state and federal benefits the child is able to receive.

Another benefit of a special needs trust is that the child is not responsible for managing the money and the parents can put specific restrictions on how the money is to be used. It will then be up to a trustee to ensure the terms of the trust are followed.

Source:The Fiscal Times, “Estate Planning Guide for a Special Needs Child,” Sonya Stinson, July 10, 2013

James Gandolfini gifts many family, friends in his will

All too often, people in Stockton read stories of stars dying with no will. Their properties and estates end up going to family members that they would rather not have left anything to and, sometimes, to family members with whom they have not spoken in years. Though many stars do die without a will, the recent death of James Gandolfini reminds us that not every actor and actress does.

Gandolfini is probably best remembered by the people of west Texas as the actor to play Tony Soprano, a complex mobster in the HBO show “The Sopranos.” Yet, outside of the show he was anything but violent and cruel, and his will is a testament to his caring nature.

While it is not surprising that a majority of his estate goes to his 13-year-old son and infant daughter, what is shocking is how many generous gifts he left to the other people in his life. For example, he gave two of his friends $50,000 each, asking one of his friends to use the money for his son. The actor also gave his godson $100,000. His secretary and personal assistant were also to receive $200,000 each.

Had Gandolfini not made a will that specifically divided his approximately $70 million estate, none of those people would have received anything under normal intestacy laws. And, since he had children and was married at the time of his death, not even his sisters or his nieces would have received the generous sums that Gandolfini left them. Fortunately, however, the star knew that if he wanted his property to be distributed the way he wanted it, he would not be able to die without a will.

Source:New York Post, “James Gandolfini leaves bulk of $70M estate to his two children,” Julia Marsh, Jeane Macintosh and Kate Sheehy, July 3, 2013

Without estate planning, Texas’s intestacy laws can confuse

People like to plan things: what to do during vacation, what to have for dinner and what career move to make next. This planning also extends to what people would like to have happen after death, the problem is, however, that unless someone takes the proactive step of creating a will or some other estate planning tool, no one will know how the property should be distributed. Instead, El Paso residents’ property will become subject to Texas’s intestacy laws.

When someone dies intestate, or without an estate planning device in place, his or her property and assets are distributed according to a set of Texas statutes. The problem is that these laws can be convoluted and difficult to understand without the help of an estate planning lawyer. And, even if you can figure them out, they may not be how you want to divide your things after you die.

Take, for example, the following situation: a woman dies before both of her parents. The woman leaves behind two daughters, who ostensibly inherit their mothers’ possessions. When these daughters’ grandmother and then grandfather die, who gets what? While this may seem like a question used to stump law students, it is exactly the sort of problem Texas courts must resolve with no will or estate planning device in play.

It is likely that the daughters would receive their grandparents’ estate, but the situation can change very quickly with even the slightest variation to the story. When a family member does die and there is a question of who should get what, it is important to consult a estate planning attorney for clarification.

Source:San Antonio Express, “Do grandchildren or great-aunt inherit?” Paul Premack, June 19, 2013