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Answers to Common Legal Questions

Questions about different types of legal advice arise frequently. Kathleen compiled a short list of commonly asked questions to begin the conversation about how to meet your legal needs. If you have additional questions, please contact Kathleen so she can better assist you.

Do I Need a Will?

Generally speaking, most people benefit from having a will. Having a valid will in place at your death can help make the administration and distribution of your estate easier for those who are left behind. Most of us are concerned about what happens to our property at our death and in whose hands our property ultimately falls. A Will is essential for everyone who has capacity to execute one.

How Do I Go About Making a Will?

There are many estate planning products on the market representing to consumers how to draft a Will without the help of an attorney. In some cases, these products may work. Many of these products are not state specific, do not meet the specific requirements where the testator resides, or where the Will is offered for probate (even though the form may be “valid in all 50 states,” it could fail to include provisions required by Texas law for low-cost, efficient administration of your estate). The best way to prepare a Will is to contact an attorney. Prior to meeting with an estate planning attorney, think about how you wish to distribute your property at death, and who to designate to administer your estate.

Is it True a Living Trust is Better Than a Will?

A living trust can be used as an alternative to a will. In most cases, trusts are more expensive and complicated than wills. Texas has relatively simple and inexpensive probate proceedings. For these reasons, most Texans can achieve their estate planning goals cheaper and simpler with a will.   There are times when living trusts are appropriate and a better solution.

What is Probate?

Probate is the court process to administer an estate. The Probate court also appoints a guardian for a person who cannot make their own personal, healthcare, and financial decisions. This typically falls into two general categories: minor children (under age 18) and incapacitated adults.

Wills do not avoid probate. Wills have no legal authority until the will-maker (testator) dies and the original will is approved and enforced by the Probate Court. Everyone with minor children needs a will to name who you would like to be the legal guardian of a child. Special testamentary trust provisions in a will can provide for the management and distribution of assets for your heirs. Additionally, assets can be arranged and coordinated with provisions of the testamentary trusts to avoid estate taxes.

What Does Intestacy Mean?

If you die without a Will (intestate), the Texas Legislature has already determined who will inherit your assets and when they will inherit them. You may not agree with the list of people who would inherit your estate, and the process to administer an estate without a Will (an heirship) is expensive and a longer process for your family.

How Do I Find Family Members Who Are Heirs to an Estate?

If you have been named executor or administrator of an estate, Kathleen will work with you to identify each living relative and to locate the potential heirs of the estate. The report will state with confidence who the closest living relatives are. When a family member dies intestate (e.g. dies without leaving a will) it is important to bring a forensic genealogist in quickly to ensure the estate goes to the legitimate heirs rather than being lost as unclaimed to the State of Texas.

What is Forensic Genealogy?

Forensic probate genealogists have the record access and necessary skills to build the family tree of a deceased relative and then trace the living descendants who may ultimately inherit from an estate. This forensic probate research often requires knowledge of late 1800s and early 1900s record sources for various parts of the United States (USA), as well as “people finding” skills to find and locate potential heirs.

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