Monthly Archives: March 2015

Robin Williams’ family feuds over the handling of his property

If you own an estate in Texas, should you put it in a trust, or is a will sufficient to ensure that your property is dispersed the way you desire?

That is a good question, and one that you may well want to take up with an estate attorney. In Robin Williams’ case, he decided to put his estate into a trust. However, with his passing away in August last year, it has his current wife and adult children in a feud over memorabilia and other items.

Williams’ current wife alleges that some of his personal items were removed without permission. She also filed papers in December to have the contents of their home excluded from the adult children’s inheritance.

According to the wife’s attorney, she has worked with them amicably on distributing hundreds of items belonging to Williams already, and he believes they will be able to work through the rest. However, she does want their wedding presents and claims that Williams’ intended certain assets and funds to be reserved for her home’s maintenance.

So, is a trust worthwhile if the family is still feuding over Williams’ estate and property? There are many advantages to a trust. For instance, if the estate had been in a will, the issues that are being resolved now, and the items that are being dispersed, would probably spend months or years in probate court. One person in the family can hold the entire estate ransom while probate is ongoing.

Another advantage to a trust is that it is private. It is not made public, and does not go through probate court. In Williams’ case, he gave his trustees full discretion of how his personal property should be distributed. He apparently trusted them to work it out with the attorneys on both sides, which in the long run, may require mediation.

When setting up a trust, you have the option to provide your own personal instructions as to how you want your property handled. You can eliminate a lot of family quarrels in this way. There may also be tax advantages when using a trust. An estate attorney can provide advice and explain the differences between trusts and wills, helping you to decide what is better for your situation.

Source: Watertown Daily Times, “Robin Williams’ wife, children head to court in estate fight,” March. 30, 2015

The importance of a last will and testament

We believe nobody should die without a will. There are many reasons why executing a will is important to both the individual and the family. One of the primary motivations is that a will allows a person to make the right decisions for his or her particular assets, family dynamics and desired legacy.

Some Texans likely believe that one must have wealth in order to need a will. That isn’t the case. It’s important that even with minimal assets, cash or personal property, a will allows you to be the decision-maker. Otherwise, a court will decide. One of the focuses in our law practice is to help clients understand the advantages of preparing a will – the protections it can offer to families under the law. It also can help families avoid any bickering, emotional upset and estrangement that might result if they disagree about who inherits what.

When there is high value to an estate, challenges can be made by family members who don’t agree with a will’s provisions. It’s for this reason we take the time to carefully craft the proper wording of our client’s directions. Words that clearly communicate the writer’s intentions, properly in accord with Texas law, are critical to minimizing any misconceptions family members may have that could lead to disputes.

Reading our practice page can provide more insight into the value of having a will. It is one of the cornerstones of a solid estate plan. It may be that it only makes sure the family heirlooms are given to the correct children or, in the alternative, someone is deliberately excluded from any distributions. We can provide a personalized analysis regarding legal protections under estate and probate laws.

Protecting your family after you are gone is an admirable goal. There will be many things you can’t control about the future. A properly executed last will and testament is one aspect that you can.

Senior living center protested in Texas

In Houston, Texas, a developer wants to put in an assisted living facility for senior citizens. However, some other residents are resisting it, asking that the facility not be built close to their luxury condos. They are afraid that the new center may cause the property values to fall. They have a number of reasons for this train of thought, but one prominent reason is that ambulances may be called to the assisted living center, and people may not want to live on a street with many emergency vehicles.

In response, the citizens have gone to the Harris County Civil Court and put in a lawsuit to stop the project.

This is not the first dispute over a building project, but many past projects deal more with the scale of the new buildings, which may be taller than the condos and dwarf the older buildings. This situation is interesting in that it is not focusing on the size of the building, but more on the way that it will be used.

The condo residents want the government to step in and put an end to the project, and they want to be paid for damages to the property values. Those damages, as of recent reports, are over $1 million.

Despite being mid-rise and not high-rise buildings, the condos are luxury living spaces with large, expensive floor plans. These plans run from 2,500 to 3,000 overall square feet.

The value of a property is very important to anyone who owns it, as that property may be seen as an investment and anything that causes it to lose value is a direct loss of money. As such, it’s important to know your options in a residential property dispute.

Source: Houston Chronicle, “Lawsuit by luxury condo owners targets senior living facility developer” Erin Mulvaney, Mar. 18, 2015

Mortgage debt forgiveness on short sells has expired

El Paso residents who are still struggling with a resolution to get out from under mortgage debt they cannot pay may still have a chance for debt forgiveness on a portion of their outstanding balance.

While we hear a lot about the economic recovery, there are many homeowners who are still struggling financially and are underwater in their home mortgages. Being behind in mortgage payments leaves homeowners with several options: loan modification where a portion of their debt is written off or the late balance tacked to the end of the loan, a short sale where the house is usually sold for less than it is worth or a deed in lieu of foreclosure. The problem is that when debt is written off by a lender, either through a short sale, loan modification or deed in lieu of foreclosure, the amount written off is treated as taxable income by the Internal Revenue Service.

The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, which was imposed by Congress during the economic downturn, allowed the IRS to exempt taxing the amounts forgiven; however, this Act expired at the end of 2014. It is no longer available to those still struggling and hoping for a debt forgiveness from their mortgage holder in 2015.

The good news is that there are a couple of senators who are fighting to have a bipartisan bill passed that will extend the Debt Relief Act until the end of 2016. Senator Dean Heller of Nevada and Debbie Stabenow, senator of Michigan, are both representatives of areas that have been hard hit in the real estate market over the last few years. Negative equity in homes is still a problem across the entire country. If this bill passes, it will be a relief to many individuals who are still struggling and financially distressed.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Mortgage debt forgiveness still a taxing issue for many short sellers” Kenneth R. Harney, Mar. 15, 2015

Why set up a trust?

Trusts are an important estate administration document, and they can be used by anyone in the state of Texas to protect or pass on wealth. You don’t have to have a great deal of wealth to benefit from a trust, either, and there are many types of trusts to choose from.

One reason to set up a trust is to ensure any minor children or dependents are taken care of if you pass away. It’s not pleasant to consider, but you can’t know when such an event might happen, so planning now is usually the safest option. Trust are usually held by a trustee, who handles assets according to your wishes to ensure all needs are met for your dependents until a time when the dependents can take care of themselves. Trusts can also be used to take care of dependents who are physically or intellectually handicapped.

Trusts also let your heirs avoid some or all of the probate process, which can be a big relief for them at a time when grief makes it hard to face a legal proceeding. Although Texas doesn’t have estate taxes, trusts can protect your wealth from other taxes, including some federal estate taxes.

Another reason many people set up trusts is to protect their wealth for later in life. If you should become incapacitated, a trust can ensure you are amply provided for. It can also protect your assets against taxation and creditors even if you are not incapacitated.

Trusts are complex legal documents, however, so you do want to take care in setting them up. Working with a professional to ensure all possibilities are covered is often the best way to protect your future and your heirs.

Source:, “Trusts” accessed Mar. 13, 2015

Battle begins over ownership of home after Texas woman’s passing

When a woman and her husband first were married, back in the mid 1990s, they set up wills that would basically just leave all of the assets and wealth to the surviving spouse if one of them ended up passing away. When they got divorced in 2007, things clearly had to change. As the couple had both a waterfront home and another home in Texas, they determined that the husband would get to keep the home in Texas and that the wife would get the waterfront home.

In fact, the woman even went to that home after the divorce and lived there until she passed away. She was just 43 years old. The property was special to her because her family had owned the land for generations.

After her death, which her ex-husband learned about on the Internet, he came forward with the older wills, saying that he was entitled to the lakefront property. Under the terms of those wills, which gave everything to the surviving spouse, he said he should get both plots of land.

The woman’s family, though, says that they worked on paperwork to keep the lakefront house in the family. Her parents essentially gave up their right to it so that it would go to the woman’s brothers instead. The whole case is now set to go to court as both sides believe that the legal paperwork says that they should be given the house.

This story shows just how important it is not only to have a will, but to clearly alter or replace that will when a major change must be made to the estate plan.

Source: Watertown Daily Times, “State’s highest court to consider Clayton woman’s disputed will” Brian Kelly, Feb. 28, 2015

Getting a handle on your mortgage to avoid foreclosure

El Paso residents are well aware of the numerous foreclosures in the housing market in the past few years. While the economy is slowly improving, there are still people that are struggling to pay their mortgages and save their homes from foreclosure. If you are one of those people, here are some valuable tips that might help you.

The first and most important thing you need to do is to tackle the issue. Too many people get behind in their mortgage, and don’t address it until they are so far behind, there is no chance of catching up. This applies to other debts as well. Contact your lender as soon as the problem starts. Lenders have many options available to you that doesn’t involve losing your home.

Most lenders will work with a borrower as long as the borrower is making a good faith effort. Don’t throw your mortgage statements and letters in a drawer unopened because you don’t know what to do about them. Once you have spoken to someone and know your options, you will feel a load lifted from your shoulders.

Review your original loan documents to know what steps your lender can legally do. If you are not sure, consult with an attorney who deals in real estate. He or she can also make sure you know your rights and options, and can even work with your lender if you so desire.

Learn about foreclosure prevention options available to you both from your lender and an attorney. If one can’t help you, the other one probably can. Just a few of the options available to avoid foreclosure are: loan modification, short sale, deed in lieu of foreclosure, partial claim or second mortgage or even bankruptcy.

You can also brainstorm on ways to get your finances back on track. There may be quick ways to raise the cash you need to catch up, such as selling an item you no longer need or having a garage sale. If this is an option, make sure you have a budget that will work going forward.

Just remember, grasping the bull by the horns and taking control of the situation is the most important thing you can do. Once you know your options, you can make decisions to be in control of your situation.

Source:, “What if you are unable to make your mortgage payment?” accessed Mar. 04, 2015