A person’s will is the cornerstone of any successful estate plan. The provisions of a will determine many aspects regarding a person’s estate, namely how the decedent’s property will be distributed. If you die intestate in Texas (without a will), the Texas Estates Code contains default provisions that will determine how and to whom your assets are distributed. This can prove problematic, particularly in the case of blended families where one or both spouses have children from prior marriages or relationships. Likewise, if you would like a portion of your estate to go to a charity or to a close friend or relative outside of your immediate family, the default provisions of the Texas Estates Code will likely frustrate your intentions.
Another important aspect of a will is the appointment of an independent executor to represent the estate in court, whether it is a statutory probate court (such as a Harris County Probate Court located in Houston) or a county court (such as a Fort Bend County Court at Law). By appointing an independent executor for your estate in Texas, you help assure that the number of trips to court and the amount of court supervision over the estate are kept to a minimum, which decreases the cost of the probate process and ensures that a larger portion of your estate assets pass according to your wishes. You can also specify that your independent executor can serve without posting bond, which may further decrease the cost of the probate process.
Wills can be simple or complex. As an example, a simple will for a husband with no prior marriages might leave his entire estate to his wife, with his children, a charity, or another person or organizaton as contingent beneficiaries in the event that his wife does not survive him. This gives the testator (the person for whom the will is drafted) maximum flexibility in deciding how to distribute his assets. A more complicated will might create one or more trusts to take advantage of tax planning strategies that allow the testator to pass tax-free the maximum amount allowed under the federal estate and generation-skipping tax laws in place at the time of death. Additionally, any property passing to minors or younger adult children may be left in trust rather than outright to the beneficiary, which will allow the testator more control over how the assets are managed and distributed, while potentially providing some creditor protection against the beneficiary’s creditors.
Another important estate planning goal is the appointment of guardians for a decedent’s minor, incapacitated, or disabled children. A will can designate one or more persons to serve as guardians for a decedent’s child or children after the parent or legal guardian dies. While this can also be accomplished using other estate planning documents, such as a declaration of guardian form, it is often easier to appoint a guardian in a last will and testament drafted as part of a comprehensive estate plan.
Contact an attorney at the Houston-based Vance Law Firm today for a free estate planning consultation to help you assess your needs and prepare an estate plan that accomplishes your long-term goals.