Questions About Estate Planning

Maybe you have questions about the Estate Planning Process? 

What is involved? or Where to get Started?  

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we field from our clients.

Do I need an Estate Plan? 

YES! We strongly believe that all adults need an estate plan. Even if you are ok with your assets passing under the Texas Intestate Succession laws (more on that, below), an estate plan can expedite the process, spare you unnecessary taxes, and account for situations where your immediate heir predeceases you or is incapacitated. If you have young children, an estate plan has the added benefit of providing future guardianship instructions and the ability to put your children’s inheritance into a trust that protects your kids well into adulthood.

What is included in an Estate Plan?

All estate plans are custom created and are based on your specific needs and goals. That said, the estate plans we prepare often include a will, trust documents, durable statutory powers of attorney (to appoint financial access if you are incapacitated), medical power of attorney (to appoint a person to make health decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated), guardianship instructions, and more.

What does a will cost?

Because our estate plans are tailored to your needs, we do not have a set pricing for all plans. Generally, however, a single person’s estate plan starts at $1500 while a married couple with reciprocal wills starts at $1850. The costs can increase depending on the size of the estate and need for advanced tax planning or the creation of multiple trusts.

How long does the process take?

The estate plan process can take as long or short as you need. Once you make the decision to work with the Heights Law Group, we will send you a questionnaire designed to help us determine how best to advise you. After we have reviewed the questionnaire, we will set up a consultation with you to discuss how best to tailor your estate plan to your needs and answer any questions you may have. Many of our clients need more time to think about their preferences and make decisions on the provisions in their will. We can work with your schedule- what matters is making an estate plan that you are comfortable with and gives you peace of mind should the unexpected happen.

What information will I need to provide?

Once you make the decision to work with the Heights Law Group, we will send you a questionnaire designed to help us determine how best to advise you.  Part of this questionnaire will ask you for information like:

    • Your formal name, date of birth, and address
    • Your spouse, partner, or family member’s names
    • Your children’s names, dates of birth, addresses
    • Do you know a family member or person who you would want to name as the executor of your will or the trustee of your trust (for a trust, this can be you)?
    • Do you know a family member or person who you might want to serve as the guardian of any minor children in case of a catastrophe?
    • Do you know a family member or  person who you would want to make decisions for you, financially and/or medically, in the event you are incapacitated?
    • Do you own any property or oil & gas or mineral interests in another state?

Don’t worry.  The attorneys at the Heights Law Group will guide you on what is needed to create the best plan for you.

Can my will be done virtually?

The attorneys at Heights Law Group conduct many estate plans in person and via video conferencing- whatever is easiest for you. Once will and/or trust documents are ready for signing, most clients decide to come in so that we can be sure your paperwork is properly witnessed and notarized. If this presents a problem, we can discuss alternative arrangements such as having a mobile notary visit you at your home or in the hospital. Our goal is to make this process as easy for you as possible, so let us know what you need and we will do our best to make it happen.

Do I want a Will or should I create a Trust?

We can help you with this decision.  But see the pros and cons of each in our blog post:  Wills v. Trusts, Which is Right for You?

How often do I need to update my will?

An estate plan is an investment, and in many cases does not need to be updated in your later years. There are two main situations where we advise our clients to amend their will: when there is a change in your own personal situation or a change in the law.

A change in your own personal situation is a much more common situation requiring a will update. New baby, grandchild, family death, or divorce may have you rethinking your plans for the distribution of your estate.  Updates may be as simple as adding (or removing) beneficiaries or could have you wanting to add a trust to provide protection or distribution in new ways. Similarly, coming into new wealth that changes the tax implications for your estate may create a need for a more complex (tax beneficial) estate plan. No matter what the situation is, the attorneys at the Heights Law Group are here to consult with to see if your will needs updating to reflect changes in your life or circumstances.

Additionally, a change in the law can sometimes impact the tax burden for large estates. For instance, in 2022 there is a $12,060,000 unified credit applied against the estate and gift tax in 2022. What this means is that estates with assets under the unified credit amount will not be taxed at the federal level upon death.  Tax law, however, is subject to change. Since we cannot predict what the law will be 10, 20 or 30 years from now, an estate plan may need to be updated in the future based on a change in law.

What happens if I am married with children and die without a will?

In Texas, if a person dies without a will (also known as dying “intestate,”) their assets will pass under the state’s laws for intestate succession, which vary depending on the decedent’s marital status and whether there are any surviving family members. If a person leaves a spouse, his or her community property will pass to the surviving spouse- but only if the decedent has no children or all the decedent’s children are also children of the surviving spouse.

What does this mean? Well, if Spouse A and Spouse B are married and have two kids together and Spouse A dies, all community property assets will transfer to Spouse B. But, if Spouse A has kids from a prior marriage, such that Spouse B is not the parent of all of Spouse A’s children, then the estate does not automatically transfer to Spouse B. Instead, deceased Spouse A’s one-half interest in the community estate will pass to his/her children.

While the Texas legislature has designed the laws of intestate succession to best mirror what they think people will want on death, we strongly advise everyone to get an estate plan that puts their actual goals into action. Your estate is the culmination of your life’s work and future legacy- be purposeful in determining what happens when you are no longer around.

What happens if I am unmarried without children and die without a will?

In Texas, if you die without a will, the disposition of your assets depends on what family survives you.

    • If both parents are living, your assets will pass equally to your parents.
    • If one parent is living and one parent is deceased and you have no siblings, your assets will pass to the surviving parent.
    • If one parent is living and one parent is deceased and you do have sibling(s), then half of your estate will pass to the living parent and half will pass to your sibling (or to your sibling’s decedents if your sibling predeceases you).
    • If both of your parents predecease you, your assets will pass to your sibling(s) or their descendants if any.
    • If both of your parents predecease you and you have no siblings or descendants of siblings, then half of your estate will pass to your mother’s side of the family and half of the estate will pass to your father’s side of the family.

It is extremely unlikely, but if a person dies without a will and has no surviving parents, siblings, descendants of siblings, or family on either the mother’s or father’s side of the family, then your assets will go to the State of Texas. When assets are transferred to the state, the process is known as “escheatment.”

 

Contact us today to get help with your Estate Planning, Probate or Litigation needs.