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Areas Of Practice

 

Practice-Areas

ESTATE PLANNING
For many years, there has been an estate tax (some people call it a “death tax”) in effect in this country.  Historically, only about 2% of estates have been subject to this tax.  Most estates pay no federal estate tax because the fair market value of the decedent’s estate does not exceed the exemption amount, which is $5.34 million for tax year 2015.  The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, signed into law on January 1, 2013, made permanent the $5 million estate tax exemption to be indexed for inflation since 2011.  Basic estate planning has always made it possible to protect greater amounts than the estate tax exemption ceiling.  If one’s estate is at or near the $5 million range, the most prudent course of action would be to contact an estate planner and take advantage of this large applicable exclusion. 
 
Some people think if their estate is not as large as the figures set out above, they do not really need to do any estate planning.  As noted below, that is not true for many reasons (see Wills, Trusts, and Guardianships below).  For example, most clients can ensure that their estate passes in accordance with their wishes by drafting a Will.  To further protect our clients’ estates, we also prepare Trusts, Guardianships, Living Wills, Statutory Durable Powers of Attorney, and Medical Powers of Attorney for our clients.
 
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WILLS, TRUSTS, AND GUARDIANSHIPS
If you die without a Will, State law will determine how, when, and to whom one’s estate will be distributed.  In addition to allowing you to make your own decisions regarding the distribution of your property, a Will also gives you a chance to provide guidance to the State as to whom parents want to serve as guardians for their minor  children should something happen to both parents.  Also, a Will allows you to set up a trust should your children not have reached 18 (or older at your discretion) at the time of your death.  If there are potential estate tax issues, one can also set up trusts to avoid or reduce estate taxes.
 
In addition to guardianships for a minor, guardianships are also available for persons who are incapacitated.  In Texas, a person is generally deemed to be incapacitated if unable to provide food, clothing, or shelter for himself/herself, or who is unable to care for his/her own physical needs, or is unable to handle his/her financial affairs because of a mental or physical condition.  While such guardianships generally are concerned with the elderly, guardianships can be sought in court for anyone who has become incapacitated for any reason.
 
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DIRECTIVE TO PHYSICIANS (LIVING WILLS)
A Directive to Physicians is a document directing your physician to withhold life-sustaining procedures if you are  suffering from an irreversible or terminal condition. The Directive can be revoked at any time.
 
DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY
A Durable Power of Attorney is a document that authorizes someone to carry on business or deal with your assets regardless of your disability or incapacity.
 
MEDICAL POWER OF ATTORNEY
A Medical Power of Attorney is a document that authorizes someone to consent to medical treatment for you if you are unable to give consent.
 
PROBATE
If someone dies without a valid will, Texas law allows probate of that person’s estate in accordance with and as directed by state law. Probate is the Court process by which a will is proved to be valid and in effect at the time of death.  It generally includes all matters regarding the administration of the estate of a deceased person.  See Elder Law Handbook (Fifth Edition: January 2013); published by Tarrant County Bar Association. 
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