Of the many courses of action involved in the process of estate planning, there are several documentation types that need to be addressed throughout. Wills, trusts, forms, and other official materials are vital in achieving a properly established estate plan. In general, most new clients assert they do not have a prepared estate plan, but are surprised to learn that there is one in place for them regardless; if no planning is done manually by the persons affected, the estate in question will be distributed after death according to laws of intestacy instituted by the government of Texas.

This is why Estate Planning is important! Although the statutes may seem reassuring to some, to others it can be concerning if the statutes automatically put in place are not ideal for certain familial situations. Therefore, a properly drafted, thorough estate plan will replace the intestacy statutes from the state of Texas with your own custom requirements and sanctions.

With such an arduous process, you don’t need to go through estate planning all on your own. At Robbins Estate Law you can attain all the help you need in order to draft the perfect estate plan. Contact us today!

Below is a checklist of documents you will need on your estate planning journey. Our services provide a comprehensive preparation process and all the guidance you’ll need to help you with your estate planning.

Our Estate Planning Services

  1. Your Last Will and Testament
  2. Trusts: Revocable Living Trusts, Irrevocable Trusts, Testamentary Trusts, Special Needs Trusts, etc.
  3. Powers of Attorney
  4.  Health Care Documents (or Advance Directives)

1. Your Last Will and Testament

If you want to construct a comprehensive estate plan, your last will and testament is only one part of it (contrary to popular belief)! If a person dies without an official will, the state laws determine that they have died “intestate,” which results in Texas statutes having the final say on the distribution of the person’s assets.

  • Under the law, a will only has legal authority after the person’s death. This means that if that person is incapacitated in any way by illness or injury, then a will is not able to move forward with any desired proceedings.
  • Even before a will has any legal authority, it must be delivered to the probate court to be validated. An attorney must be hired, and testimony must be given regarding the contents of the will in question. Then, the probate judge will admit the will into probate which gives it the appropriate legal authority.
  • If the person has any minor children, a will is a recommended legal document to select your preferred guardians to take over the care of your children in case they become orphaned. This nomination of legal guardians is a process every parent should go through, to ensure that the custody of their children does not pass to the wrong guardians.

2. Trusts: Revocable Living Trusts, Irrevocable Trusts, Testamentary Trusts, Special Needs Trusts, etc.

A trust is defined as a legal entity, which involves three distinct aspects in the arrangement: the trust-maker, the trust manager, and the trust beneficiary (these can consist of only one person married couple). Trusts are created in a variety of formats, and they vary in terms of complexity and the purposes they serve. In general, these purposes include personal, tax, legal, or investment-related reasons. Below is a list of some examples of trusts:

  • Revocable Living Trust
  • Irrevocable Trust
  • Testamentary Trust
  • Special Needs Trust
  • Et cetera

Why is establishing a trust important in estate planning? There are several pros to creating one, including the protection of assets from any applicable creditors, the avoidance of probate court (unlike wills), the avoidance of costly taxes on the estate, and the protections needed in case of a divorce. It can also continue to have legal authority in the case that the trust-maker becomes incapacitated.

3. Powers of Attorney

An important legal document to consider in estate planning is the power of attorney, which has the ability to give someone the legal right to accomplish certain tasks for you, depending on the document’s terms that you have specified (which can be very broad or very limited). This type of legal document terminates when the person who established it dies or even when they become incapacitated. In such cases where the maker is unable to communicate or decide on their own matters, it is recommended to use a durable power of attorney to assign your backup agent to make decisions on your behalf. Make sure that this specific document is regularly updated to avoid scrutiny and hesitation from financial institutions when the time comes to utilize it.

4. Health Care Documents (or Advance Directives)

An advance directive is a document that specifies the type of medical and personal care you would want should you lose the ability to make and communicate your own decisions. Anyone over the age of 18 may execute an advance directive, and this document is legally binding in Texas. Your advance directive can specify who will make and communicate decisions for you, and it can set out the circumstances under which you would not like your life to be prolonged if, for example, you were in a coma with no reasonable chance of recovery.

A document that goes hand-in-hand with your advance directive is authorization to your medical providers to allow specified individuals to access your medical information. Without this authorization, your doctor may refuse to communicate with your hand-picked decision-maker.

Our Estate Planning Process

Here is what you can expect when you trust us with your estate plan.

  1. Get in touch with us! Give us a call or fill out a contact form
  2. Schedule a free phone consultation
  3. From there, we schedule an estate planning strategy session, usually in person or via Zoom.  This is an hour and a half session to get to know each other, go over your specific family needs and desires, and to create an estate plan that works for you. 
  4. Once we’ve got a plan designed, one month later we will schedule a review that can be done over the phone or in-person to explain your documents in detail.  This is your opportunity to make changes to your decisions, ask more questions and get a comprehensive understanding of your plan. 
  5. When you know the plan is perfect, we schedule a date for you to come in and sign your document!  Our staff is happy to serve as your witnesses, so there’s no need to worry about rounding up any other friends or family members. 
  6. That’s it!  Once signed, we scan your plan so that you have an electronic copy, answer any last questions you might have, and congratulate you on getting your estate plan in place.  It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give to your family. 

Frequently Asked Estate Planning Questions

  • What Exactly Is Estate Planning In Texas?
    • Any estate plan is designed to make sure that your assets pass to your family as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible. Without a proper estate plan, your assets could be tied up and spent towards the probate process for months, or even years.
  • What Are The Basic Items Or Components In An Estate Plan?
    • Last Will and Testament
    • Revocable Living Trust 
    • Financial Power of Attorney
    • Medical Power of Attorney
    • Directive to Physicians
    • HIPAA forms 
  • Who Needs A Trust In Texas?
    • Typically, homeowners or people with six figures of investment assets could benefit from a trust. Trusts are primarily used for convenience, so the short answer is anyone who wishes to make things as simple as possible for their family could benefit from a revocable living trust.
  • Is A Will Just As Good As A Trust? What Are Reasons To Choose One Or The Other?
    • A will and a trust are two very different documents. A will is a document that transfers your assets to your loved ones, but only if you hire an attorney and go in front of a probate judge to have it “probated” after you’ve passed.  A trust is a private document that does not have to go through probate, even if it holds assets like your house.  Trusts are usually used as tools to make administering an estate more convenient for the family, for example, by avoiding needing to hire an attorney and go in front of a probate court.  Trusts are also frequently used for asset protection from creditors, divorce protection, and as a means to reduce estate taxes owed when transferring assets to your loved ones.
  • I Have My Late Mother’s Will. What Should I Do With It?
    • If your loved one has passed away and you have their will, you need to call an attorney and they need to examine the will to see if you need to have the will probated.  Most people don’t realize that will have to be admitted to the probate courts in order to be effective, and if you wait too long after someone passes away you may lose your right to have the will probated!
  • How Do I Get A Will Probated In Texas?
    • The first thing you should do is hire an attorney, Texas does not allow people to probate a will without an attorney to assist.  Usually, we just need about 20 minutes of questions answered, as well as a copy of the death certificate and the original signed will.  From there, it should take about two to three months before your attorney can get a hearing scheduled in front of your county’s probate court.   
  • Do I Need To Probate A Will if All The Estate Has Is A Home?
    • Yes!!  If you don’t have the will probated, then the deceased person’s name will still be on the deed records as the owner and if you ever go to sell or refinance the house you will not be able to do so until you have the will probated with the local probate court.  Waiting usually makes things more complicated, and therefore more expensive. 
  • What Does Joint Ownership With Right Of Survivorship Or Payable On Death Mean In A Texas Probate?
    • These terms are used to transfer ownership of assets outside of probate, so they “trump” the terms of a will.  They are similar to designating a beneficiary on financial assets and allow family members to access funds immediately and quickly without having to wait until an executor has been appointed in probate.
  • Is A Handwritten Will Legal And Enforceable In Texas?
    • A handwritten will is called a holographic will, and it is legal even if there are no witnesses. These wills lead to some of the most complicated and difficult situations in probate courts and often result in years longs processes that cost tens of thousands of dollars to resolve.  This simple reason is that most people who handwrite a will don’t know the legal terms that need to be used to make going through probate simple, and this often leads to major mistakes that require intense supervision by a probate judge.
  • What Warning Signs Indicate It Is Time To File A Will Contest Probate Lawsuit?
    • Of course, if the will was forged or written when the deceased didn’t have full mental capacity, a will contest is warranted.  Other situations arise if the executor is not following the terms of the will, such as selling assets that were specifically left to individuals, spending estate funds for their own personal gain, selling assets below fair market value to close confidences, and failing to report a proper inventory or accounting.  Perhaps the most common is when an executor is taking years to administer an estate and is just not doing the job they were tasked with.