ESTATE PLANNING AND PROBATE

Since 1983, my law firm has handled thousands of estates. 

Estates in Fort Worth, Arlington, and throughout Tarrant County and adjoining counties.

We would be happy to assist you with your estate planning needs and any probate issues you may have.

Estate planning begins with a Will. 

A Last Will and Testament is considered the most essential estate planning document.  Every person needs a Last Will and Testament.  The Last Will and Testament minimizes your probate expenses after your death, and assures that your estate will be distributed to the heirs of your choice.  Your Last Will and Testament dictates what assets go to which people, and in what order.

Without a Last Will and Testament, the State of Texas will determine who inherits the assets of your estate.

Without a Last Will and Testament, there is an increase of the probability of a contested probate proceedings wherein the State of Texas will determine which heirs will inherit which assets.  Without a Last Will and Testament, there is a greater chance of your surviving family getting into litigation among each other.

The Last Will and Testament can do more than simply bequeath your estate.  If you have minor children your Last Will and Testament can appoint a guardian for your minor children. 

Your Last Will can name a trusted person to manage the children's money (a trustee).

Your Last Will and Testament can implement a trust that protects your minor children’s inheritance until they attain a specific age.

A properly drafted Last Will and Testament designates the executor of your choice.  The purpose of the executor is to designate an individual who will manage your affairs, comply with the Will, and distribute the assets of your estate pursuant to your express wishes.

A carefully drafted Last Will and Testament will appoint an alternate executor in case your primary executor is unable to serve.

In Tarrant County all Wills are probate in the Tarrant County Probate Courts.  Tarrant County has two Probate Courts. Tarrant Probate Court No. 1 and Tarrant Probate Court No.2.

Your Will can contain specific bequests.  A specific bequest is a gift of a specific item to a specific person upon your death.  An example might be your china goes to your daughter or grandpa's shotgun goes to your son.

You can designate alternate beneficiaries.  The purpose of an alternate beneficiary is to make a gift in case the primary beneficiary predeceases you. 

Texas law allows for a Will that is properly drafted to be admitted into probate in an expedited fashion.

A properly drafted Last Will and Testament will have an attached affidavit. The affidavit will be executed in the presence of a notary.  This attached notarized affidavit  enables the Probate Court to administer the estate in a very efficient manner.

You may disinherit anyone you chose in a properly drafted Last Will and Testament. 

You may designate your personal funeral arrangements in your Last Will and Testament.

As I said, your Last Will and Testament is the most basic legal document for estate planning. 

Additional estate planning includes a Durable Power of Attorney, as well as a Medical Power of Attorney, and a Texas Directive to Physicians. 

A Texas Directive to Physician is a document that allows you to instruct your physicians to refrain from using artificial methods to extend your life in the event you're diagnosed with a terminal or irreversible condition.

The Texas Medical Power of Attorney is a document that allows you to designate a trusted family member or a friend of your choice to make medical decisions for you in the event you become unconscious or mentally incapable of making those decisions for yourself.

A Texas Medical Power of Attorney is not just for the elderly.  Anyone can have an unexpected illness or an accident or an injury that can occur, so we recommend that every person has a Texas Medical Power of Attorney.

It's important to keep these legal documents in a trusted place.  Each of these documents become very important if you become incapacitated or if you should pass.

Probating a Will has become somewhat streamlined in the State of Texas, assuming that the Will is properly prepared by a competent attorney.

The purpose of Texas probate is to honor the wishes that you have expressed in your Will.  The Probate Court approves the executor of your choice.  The Probate Court admits the Will into probate.  Once the Probate Court admits the Will into probate, then the assets can be distributed pursuant to the terms of your personal Will.

Some Probate Courts require additional notice requirements to all heirs and to all designated beneficiaries.  There are special procedures that must be followed if an heir cannot be located.

If you have a properly drafted Last Will and Testament, then the Probate Court should allow an independent administration.  An independent administration allows your designated executor to handle the affairs of your estate with minimal court interference. 

An independent administration by the Probate Court can allow your executor to serve without posting a bond.  Once all the notice requirements have been met, and once the Probate Court has admitted the Will into probate, then the Probate Court can issue letters testamentary.  These are the court documents that allow the executor to handle all the legal aspects of your estate.  The letters testamentary act as a court authorized document that allow third parties to enter into agreements with your executor, such as buying and selling assets, etc. 

The probate of an estate is in the county of Texas where the decedent resided.  Tarrant County has two Probate Courts.  If your spouse has predeceased you, then you may have to probate the second estate in the same Probate Court in Tarrant County that handled the first estate.  

Each of these two courts, and state law, requires that the executor prepare an inventory of all of the assets and debts of the estate.  No two probate inventories are alike.  The inventory focuses on the larger items of the estate first.  Typically real estate, houses, and then to financial investments, etc.  When an individual hears the word "inventory" they usually think that they need to make a list of the furniture in the house.  That's not true.  The inventory focuses on the larger assets. 

If you die in Texas without a valid Last Will and Testament, then your heirs will have a very difficult procedure.  Without a Last Will and Testament, a Texas Probate Court will impose upon your heirs a dependent administration.  A dependent administration is a court procedure that requires the court to approve virtually every transaction.

When the probate  court reviews every transaction, you have to have a lawyer appear with you in the court for each review.  For this reason alone, it's vital that every Texas resident with any assets whatsoever have a Last Will and Testament. It’s far cheaper, and more prudent, to pay the expense of estate planning rather than leave your heirs with a difficult, expensive and frustrating probate procedure.

If the court orders the estate to have a dependent administration, then the Court will require an accounting.  An accounting of how much money comes in, how much money goes out.

An independent administration usually does not require an accounting.

If there is no Last Will and Testament, then the court and state law have alternative remedies.  These are commonly called "procedures in lieu of administration."

Texas law allows for a muniment of title.  A muniment of title is available if there is a Last Will and Testament and there are no unpaid debts.

Texas law allows for a "proceeding to determine heirship." 

A proceeding to determine heirship can be used to distribute the estate of a person who does in Texas without a Will and leaves an estate that needs to be distributed to obvious heirs. 

Texas also has a procedure for smaller estates.  A small estate can be distributed at times with an affidavit if properly drafted by an attorney and filed with the appropriate records of the county. 

Our law firm has handled thousands of estates.  We have represented clients in Ft. Worth, Arlington, as well as all of the other cities within Tarrant County.

We realize how important this is to you.  An estate is often a lifetime accumulation.  An estate can be your lifetime efforts, your estate represents your lifetime savings.  Your estate represents everything that you have created and saved to give to specific heirs.  We understand how important this is to you.  Please call our law offices if we can help.  Dale O’Neal, Attorney at Law. 817-877-5995  God bless.