Monthly Archives: November 2014

Texas real estate purchases: why a title search?

If you are buying or selling property in El Paso, Texas, and you are not versed in real estate law, you probably don’t want to attempt to go it alone. Real estate procedures and laws can be very complex. Anyone who is not a first-time home buyer probably knows that there are tons of paperwork that must be signed when closing on a house or piece of property. Did you ever wonder what all that paperwork was about?

There are certain steps that must be done before closing on a new home or piece of property. Besides the normal home inspection that takes place to ensure the home is up to par, there is another inspection to be done — a title search. Most people assume just because the property is being sold, the title is free and clear, or will be transferred directly from the lender. Unfortunately, it is not always that simple. When a home is bought or sold, that is often the time when someone discovers additional liens or judgments exist on the property.

That is why a title search is performed. Some of the issues that may show up could be a second mortgage holder, a judgment against the home from an unpaid debtor and occasionally even an old lien on the property that was made against a previous owner could show up. To see additional issues you might run into with property titles, click on our website.

You should also be aware of laws regarding property titles in your state. Different states have different laws regarding how titles are handled by mortgage companies, such as whether your state is a lien theory state or a title theory state. Texas is a title theory state, where a lender holds the title to a borrower’s property in a Deed of Trust. In a lien theory state, the borrower holds the title, and the lender has a lien against the title until the loan is paid.

Before moving forward to sell or purchase your home, you should ensure a thorough title search is done on your property. Everything must be handled properly, as even an incorrectly spelled name can create chaos or cause litigation down the road.

Not all foreclosures are on the up and up

Regulators are investigating a firm that collects mortgage payments after allegations that the firm’s actions are leading to homeowner foreclosures that are not necessary. According to reports, the firm, Ocwen Financial Corp., collects payments from residents in Texas and elsewhere. Investigators say that the firm may have participated in less-than ethical activities, including things such as backdating letters.

The company branded itself as a firm that was more helpful to homeowners in crisis than big banks, but a lawsuit claims the firm is illegally charging high fees in addition to engaging in business practices that are deceptive. According to investigators, there is evidence that the company sent thousands of backdated letters to homeowners. Because the letters were dated in the past, it created the image that homeowners had missed deadlines for filing paperwork to prevent foreclosure.

One couple in another state purchased a home in 2002. In 2011, Ocwen supposedly found an issue regarding missing property tax payments, and the firm added an $18,000 lump sum payment requirement to the couple’s bill. Unsurprisingly, the couple couldn’t make that large payment, and the firm reportedly stopped accepting their regular monthly payments.

The couple, who is still struggling to keep their home, says the firm claims they owe much more than they borrowed, even though they made on-time payments for almost a decade. Ocwen has filed for foreclosure and continues to send the couple large bills, but the couple is fighting back on a legal level.

A number of things can lead to a mortgage default. Individuals may have a sudden job change or crisis that means they struggle for a few months with payments, or paperwork and payments can be mixed up. When this happens, some banks are more aggressive than others in seeking foreclosures, which means homeowners have to be aggressive with legal options to fight for their homes.

Source: Texas Public Radio, “Firm Accused Of Illegal Practices That Push Families Into Foreclosure” Chris Arnold, Nov. 18, 2014

Robin Williams’ will and estate plan details revealed

Robin Williams passed away in early August of 2014, but he already had a will in place, which he signed on the last day of January 2011. He also had a prenuptial agreement with his wife, which was set up before the two got married. The details of his estate plan have now been, to some degree, revealed to the public.

It appears that the estate is going to be split between four main parties: his wife and his three children.

The details for his wife are less clear, as he simply asked that the things he had agreed upon in the prenuptial agreement be carried out. This means that his wife is going to get a portion of his wealth and assets.

For his children, a fairly strict plan based on age was established. The children will all get part of the estate, but they will each only get a third of the money when they reach the age of 21. At age 25, they will get half of what is left. At age 30, they will each get the rest of what they have inherited.

Some of the exact dates do not matter so much now, since his children have passed some of the thresholds. One of his sons is 31, and thereby entitled to the full share, and the other is 22, and therefore, only able to get the first third. His daughter is 25, so she will get the first third and half of what remains.

While an estate plan does not necessarily have to be complicated in Texas or any other state, it is important to have one in place in the event of an unexpected death.

Source: People, “Robin Williams Left Fortune to His Children and Wife” Nov. 13, 2014

Love animals? Make an animal charity your beneficiary

States like Texas have more than their share of animals, both domesticated and commercial. But like every other state, there are many domesticated animals in need of care and loving homes. If you are one of those animal-loving people who care deeply about animals, you are probably well aware of the need for volunteers and funds to care for animals in need. It is never-ending. Have you ever thought about putting a charitable contribution in your will to the ASPCA or making the ASPCA a beneficiary of your estate?

This is a great option for those who have accumulated a healthy estate during their lifetime and don’t have heirs, as well as for those who do have heirs. For those who do have heirs, you can leave a one-time sum to the charity or a percentage of your assets.

Even if you don’t have a large estate to plan distribution of, most people have a retirement plan, insurance policy, 401(k), 401(b) or an IRA of some kind. You can designate the ASPCA as a beneficiary. This is a great way to continue giving to something you cared deeply about in your lifetime. You do not have to give the full amount if you have other heirs you want to designate funds to. You can designate a percentage of the funds, or you can designate the ASPCA as the contingent beneficiary in case your primary beneficiary becomes deceased before you.

There are additional benefits to giving to a charity at your death. The death benefits from your retirement plan are usually taxable to an heir but not to charities. So this is tax-free giving. Also, because it is contingent on your death, while you are alive, your retirement plan is still accessible to you to do with as you please.

You might also consider naming the ASPCA as a beneficiary for investment accounts or bank accounts. This is a great way of sharing your love for our four-legged friends!

Source:, “Beneficiary Designations: A Gift to the ASPCA that Costs Nothing Now” Nov. 13, 2014

Texas residents can improve their real estate transactions

Not every real estate transaction is a positive experience, especially for individuals who are dealing with things such as disputes, short sales or foreclosures. There are some easy things Texas residents can do to improve the quality of a real estate transaction, including increasing the value of an offer or finding better alternatives to foreclosure.

One way to seek more positive real estate transactions is through strong communication. Use all communication tools at your disposal to speak with lenders, buyers, sellers, agents or attorneys involved in the process. Depending on the situation, appropriate communication may include phone calls, face-to-face conversations, emails and mailed letters. In some situations, such as foreclosures, you may want to talk to any third-party representative helping with the issue before communicating.

Staying organized helps with home purchases, sales or possible foreclosures. Understand any deadlines for paperwork and payments, especially with regard to foreclosures. Lenders may send letters detailing when they will take action; by taking action yourself before those dates, you could change the outcome of the foreclosure to your favor.

Seek education. Real estate agents and attorneys can offer valuable information that helps you make a more informed decision about any real estate process. From knowing which forms are required to understanding the legal language in a contract, educating yourself about the process helps you protect your future and avoid common mistakes in real estate transactions. A third-party advocate also helps you cut through any emotional ties to property or stress about the situation to make better decisions for your family. Considerations during real estate transactions should include personal finances, family stability and goals for the future.

Source: Green Bay Press Gazette, “Ten tips toward a quality offer on a home” Nov. 07, 2014

How will an estate be managed in Texas?

When someone in Texas passes away, something has to be done with one’s possessions and assets. At the same time, specific debts may need to be taken care of. The overall distribution process is known as estate management. There are three main ways in which this is going to be done.

First of all, you might decide to go with an informal probate process. To do this, you put in the paperwork, and the court then assigns someone to the job. That person will distribute things as he or she sees fit, then put in a report to be approved by the court. For these types of cases, a hearing may never become necessary.

Another option is the formal probate process. The court is more involved in this, and hearings and other court meetings may be necessary. This type of process is often going to be chosen if there are some major complications. For example, one of the deceased person’s heirs may be disputing the authenticity of the will.

Finally, there is the process of using a personal representative. This could be a family member who is actually listed in this capacity in the will. It could be another individual that the court — or the family — chooses. It could even be an institution, like a bank, in some cases. It is then that representative’s job to follow the will and distribute the assets.

If you are trying to work through a person’s will or estate and you want to make sure that it is all done properly and legally, make sure that you know all of your rights and legal options.

Source: FindLaw, “How to Administer an Estate” Nov. 03, 2014