Free Consultation
214-691-3411
Free Consultation 214-691-3411

Dallas Estate Planning Blog

If you are in the process of writing your will or trying to determine how the property of a family member will be handled after their death, you may have encountered the term probate. Probate is the legal process by which a person’s estate, their property and possessions, are handled after they pass on.

In the probate process, a court officially recognizes a person’s death and determines how their assets are distributed among family members and other beneficiaries. If the deceased left a will to direct where their property should go, the procedure may be simpler. Some items do not have to go through probate, but others, especially those lacking titles or not named in the will, may have to go through this process.

How Does the Probate Process Work?

The probate process can be daunting to those without experience, but the good news is that compared to other states, probate in the State of Texas is relatively simple. The Texas probate process can be broken down into several steps:

  1. Filing with the probate court – An application for probate is filed with the proper probate court for the county where the deceased was a resident.
  2. Posting notice – Before a hearing is held regarding a probate application, there is a ten-day waiting period to allow for anyone to contest the will or the administration of the estate.
  3. Hearing and validation – After the waiting period, there will be a hearing and the probate judge will ensure that the will is valid or verify that the deceased did not leave a will. The judge will then appoint an administrator for the estate or will verify that the executor is valid.
  4. Inventory of assets – Within 90 days of the appointment of an administrator or executor, that person must compile a list of all the assets held by the estate and file it with the county clerk, in the form of a report known as an Inventory, Appraisement, and List of Claims. This report lists the estate’s assets as well as a reasonably accurate estimation of their value as of the deceased’s passing.
  5. Notify beneficiaries – If the deceased left a will, the executor must notify the beneficiaries of the estate. If there was no will, the probate court must determine heirship. In the case of unknown potential heirs, it may be necessary to post notices in newspapers and at the courthouse.
  6. Notice to creditors – The deceased may have unresolved debts, also known as liabilities—hospital bills, house or car payments, or other major expenses. The executor must notify creditors of the person’s death and allow them the opportunity to make a claim against the estate.
  7. Dispute resolution – If family members or potential beneficiaries wish to contest the will, the probate court must hold a hearing before finalizing the estate.
  8. Distribution of Assets – Once any disputes are resolved and the estate has been finalized, the assets are distributed to the beneficiaries.

Common Terms Related to Probate

The probate process contains specialized legal vocabulary and concepts that you may find confusing if you’ve never experienced them. Here are a few commonly used terms.

  • Administrator – When a person dies without a will and an executor hasn’t been named, Texas law requires that an administrator be appointed to manage the estate.
  • Assets – Property with a monetary value held by an estate. Real estate, vehicles, clothing, jewelry, bank accounts, cash, and furnishings would all be considered assets.
  • Beneficiaries – These are the recipients of the property distributed from an estate, whether family members, friends, or organizations.
  • Decedent/Deceased – These terms refer to the person who has died.
  • Estate – The assets that belonged to the deceased person are collectively known as the estate.
  • Intestate – This term refers to an estate whose owner died without a will. A probate court must determine how to distribute the assets of such an estate.

Your estate lawyer can explain any confusing terminology and answer any questions relating to your own probate case.

Speak with a Texas Probate Attorney Today

Managing your family’s affairs after the death of someone close is hard enough without all the extra strain of sorting out their estate. The probate process can be complicated, and mistakes could potentially be costly. You need a knowledgeable estate lawyer who can guide you through this process efficiently and with a minimum of stress. The Dallas estate planning and litigation attorneys of Staubus and Randall will be with you through the entire ordeal and can answer any questions you might have. Call us today at 214-691-3411 or fill out our contact form to set up a free consultation.

Most people want to take care of their family even after they’re gone. Creating a last will and testament can make sure that your assets pass to your chosen beneficiaries upon your death. That way, there won’t be any confusion about what assets you intended to go to which person.

Drafting a last and will and testament isn’t as complicated as you might think. If you want peace of mind knowing there won’t be any confusion about what happens to your property after you pass away, you should hire an estate planning lawyer and begin the process of creating a will today.

Every part of an estate plan has its advantages and disadvantages. A will is no different. There are pros and cons you should consider if you’re thinking about setting up a will.

Pros of Having a Will

The advantages of creating a last will and testament include the ability to:

  • Distribute assets how you want – Any property you leave behind will transfer to your named beneficiaries. If you don’t create a will or choose beneficiaries for your estate, the assets will likely be distributed by intestate succession. That means specific heirs will receive your assets according to state law. Creating a will allows you to control who gets what, so you can avoid family disputes.
  • Choose a guardian – If you have minor children, you can choose a guardian to assume their care after you pass away. When you draft a will, you can name a guardian and set aside money for them to use to provide for your children. A guardian prevents the child from ending up in foster care or with a family member you don’t want to entrust your children to.
  • Appoint an executor – You can choose an executor to manage your assets according to your will when you’re gone. The executor is an individual who handles all aspects of the will by paying debts, distributing assets according to the deceased’s wishes, and closing the estate properly. You don’t have to worry whether your surviving family will honor your wishes when you have a trusted executor to manage your estate on your behalf.
  • Create a plan for your pets – Pets are like family to most people. Whether you have a dog, cat, hamster, or lizard, you probably want to know they’ll end up in a loving home when you die. You can use your will to indicate who you want to assume care of your pet upon your death. You can also set money aside so the guardian you choose can pay for food, toys, vet appointments, and other necessities.

Cons of Having a Will

Although a will is beneficial for most people during estate planning, it can also create some challenges. The most common disadvantages of having a last will and testament include:

  • It’s public – Once a will enters probate, it becomes a public record. That means anyone can search online for the legal documents and find out the assets you owned when you died. If an estranged relative isn’t included in your will, they could pursue legal action, delaying the process of distributing your assets to your chosen beneficiaries.
  • Time-consuming probate – Your estate will likely have to go through probate after you die. That means your loved ones can face a lengthy process to get the court to validate the will so they can receive the assets you left them.
  • Incapacitation doesn’t apply – You can’t use a will to appoint someone to take care of your medical, legal, and financial matters if you become incapacitated and can’t make your own decisions. A will only becomes effective upon your death.
  • Court procedures in multiple states – Unfortunately, your beneficiaries can’t go through the probate process just one time if you have property in other states. They must submit your will for probate in each state where you own assets.

Contact an Estate Planning Lawyer from Staubus and Randall

At Staubus and Randall, we have over 100 years of combined experience helping our clients with their estate planning. We will use our resources and personalize our services to meet your specific needs. When you hire us, we can review the circumstances of your estate and draft a will that can protect your assets and family.

You should not attempt to create an estate plan on your own. The option might seem appealing because it saves you money, but you could open yourself up to serious problems down the road. If you don’t draft the documents correctly, your will could be invalid, allowing relatives to sue your heirs for the assets you left behind. Additionally, a poorly drafted estate plan can cause confusion about your final wishes.

If you want to create a last will and testament, do not hesitate to contact Staubus and Randall at 214-691-3411 for a free consultation with one of our Texas estate planning lawyers.

A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document granting someone the authority to manage your affairs if you’re unable to yourself. A POA can become effective once you sign the document or if a specific event occurs, such as incapacitation.

When you create a power of attorney, you can appoint an attorney-in-fact, also called an agent, to make decisions on your behalf. There are multiple types of POAs you can draft depending on the kind of affairs you want your agent to manage.

The agent you choose does not have to have a legal background. However, they must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. You should pick someone you trust to make the decisions you would make regarding your assets, finances, medical care, and any circumstances that arise. Your agent should be a person you know will act in your best interest and who will be willing to carry out the wishes you outlined in the POA.

Types of Power of Attorney

There are different types of POAs. Each one has a unique purpose and offers distinct benefits. You can designate a different agent for each or one person to handle all of your affairs. The different types of power of attorney include:

  • Durable and non-durable POA
  • Limited POA
  • Springing POA
  • Medical, financial, or military POA
  • General POA

Durable and Non-Durable Power of Attorney

A durable POA goes into effect if you become incapacitated due to an accident or illness. The signed document allows the agent you choose to make specific decisions on your behalf.

You can decide whether you want your agent to have authority over your decisions upon signing the POA or when a medical provider deems you to be incompetent. You can also appoint a specific doctor you trust to determine whether you’re incompetent.

A non-durable POA is effective until you become incapacitated. If you don’t create another legal document to determine what should happen if you’re deemed incompetent, no one will have the authority to speak on your behalf if you can’t speak for yourself.

Limited Power of Attorney

A limited POA grants your designated agent authority over minimal matters. You can set the conditions for the affairs your agent can handle if a specific event occurs, such as when you experience a medical problem or take a business trip to another country. Instead of making all of your decisions, they can only make decisions based on predetermined circumstances.

The most common affairs listed in a limited POA include:

  • Collecting debts
  • Facilitating business transactions
  • Selling real and personal property
  • Managing real estate

Springing Power of Attorney

A springing POA becomes effective when a healthcare professional deems you to be physically incapacitated or mentally incompetent. A qualified doctor must declare you mentally incompetent or physically incapacitated before your attorney-in-fact can make decisions on your behalf.

Medical, Financial, or Military Power of Attorney

A medical POA grants your agent the responsibility and authority over medical decisions. If you’re incompetent, unconscious, or unable to speak for yourself for any other reason, your appointed agent can communicate your wishes regarding healthcare to your doctors.

For example, if you have a strong opinion about life support, you can include that in your medical power of attorney. You might not want doctors to use extraordinary measures to keep you alive.

A financial POA allows your agent to make financial decisions on your behalf when specific situations prevent you from being present. For example, if you’re traveling abroad for an extended period, you can give your agent the authority to make important decisions about your finances in your absence.

You can even create a financial POA to kick in if you’re mentally incompetent or incapacitated and unable to make sound financial decisions.

A military POA allows someone you choose to manage your finances while you’re performing your military duties. That person can access your accounts, file taxes, and complete additional financial tasks if you cannot do those things yourself.

General Power of Attorney

A general POA is a broad power of attorney granting your attorney-in-fact authority over a range of decisions, such as:

  • Providing gift contributions
  • Purchasing life insurance
  • Managing business and financial transactions
  • Operating a business
  • Settling claims

Your designated agent can protect your interests and handle matters outlined in the document while you’re traveling, if you become incapacitated, and in various other situations.

Speak to an Experienced Estate Planning Lawyer Today

Contact an estate planning lawyer from Staubus and Randall immediately if you want to create a power of attorney and don’t know which one would be most beneficial for you. You need guidance to choose the right POA to cover your specific circumstances and to help you draft an enforceable legal document so no one can argue its validity. Call 214-691-3411 now for an appointment.

A living trust can be a vital part of creating an estate plan. You could reap various benefits by setting up a valid and enforceable living trust. It can protect not only your assets but your family as well.

A living trust is a legal document you can establish to protect your assets during your lifetime. Your appointed trustee has the authority to manage any property and assets you move into the trust and eventually transfer them to your named beneficiaries as outlined in the document upon your death or incapacitation.

Everyone knows they should create a last will and testament. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand how beneficial a living trust can be.

If you’re considering your options during estate planning, you should review the main reasons below for why you should create a living trust.

You’re Unable to Make Decisions for Yourself

Creating a living trust protects any assets you transfer into the trust during your lifetime so your loved ones can have access to them if you become incapacitated. It’s a good idea to set up a living trust if you have a terminal illness, cognitive disease, or are older.

If something happens to you and you can’t speak for yourself, the trustee you choose can manage your trust on your behalf.

Even if you’re young and healthy, creating a living trust is an excellent idea in case you’re involved in a traumatic accident, such as a car crash, and end up in a coma. You won’t be able to inform your family of your wishes or how to pay for your medical bills and other expenses. However, granting your trustee access to the trust allows them to manage your funds without the need to go to court.

You’re Responsible for the Care of Minor Children

If you want to ensure your child’s future, you can hold specific property in your living trust to have transferred to them when they reach the age you designate.

Some people decide 18 years old is the right age to give their kids access to their assets. However, others might think that’s too young for someone to be responsible for managing their own finances and choose to transfer assets out of the living trust and to the children once they reach 25 or even 30 years old.

When you establish a living trust, you can be the trustee yourself and appoint a successor trustee in case something happens to you, or you can decide who you want to be the trustee. The trustee manages the assets held in trust until they can transfer them to your children based on the directions you left behind.

You can also include specific terms regarding which assets your children can access and at what ages. For example, you can create a payment plan for your kids to receive a predetermined amount of money every month starting at the age you decide. That way, they can’t spend the funds frivolously all at once.

Your Beneficiaries Won’t Have to Go Through Probate

Probate can be a complicated and time-consuming process. It involves a probate judge validating a deceased’s person’s estate and allowing the beneficiaries to receive the assets outlined in the legal document. Unfortunately, that means it could take weeks or even months before your heirs can use the funds and additional property left to them in your estate plan.

With a living trust, your beneficiaries can avoid probate and gain immediate access to your assets upon your death, incapacitation, or another specified event without going to court for authorization first.

Keep Your Private Matters Private

If your surviving relatives have to go through probate to receive your assets, your estate becomes a matter of public record. Anyone can look up the information online, preventing your estate from remaining private.

If you set up a living trust, your family avoids the probate process and can manage your assets privately. That means no one will have the ability to search for the assets you owned when you died and your named beneficiaries that took ownership of them after completing probate.

Contact an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

You don’t want your loved ones to struggle if something happens to you. You want to ensure they’re taken care of if you’re no longer able to care for them whether you pass away or become incapacitated. Creating a solid estate plan can protect your property and family and give you peace of mind knowing your heirs will receive the assets you left for them without any obstacles getting in their way.

If you’re thinking about creating a living trust, you should speak with an experienced and knowledgeable estate planning attorney from Staubus and Randall. We can review your assets to determine whether a living trust could be beneficial for you. Call us today at 214-691-3411.

You should create a living will if you want your family and medical providers to know how to handle your medical care if you can’t speak for yourself.

A living will is a legal document that outlines your preferences regarding the type of medical treatment you want if you can’t make your own decisions. The instructions you provide should direct your family members and doctors when specific circumstances arise, such as:

  • Coma
  • Terminal illness
  • Traumatic injury
  • Cognitive disease

With a living will, you can indicate your wishes for end-of-life care and whether you want your physicians to use extraordinary measures to keep you alive. You can also outline your decisions regarding medication, pain management, and additional medical preferences.

The Importance of a Living Will

A living will gives you peace of mind knowing you will receive the medical treatment you choose if something happens and you can’t inform anyone of your wishes. It can also relieve any burden your family would have had if they were forced to make challenging decisions on your behalf. If you clearly state what you want in your living will, it could prevent your family members from arguing over how to handle your medical care.

Who Can Create a Living Will?

Anyone at least 18 years old and of sound mind can set up a living will. Sound mind means you understand your decisions regarding the terms of the living will you’re creating.

Most people think older adults and individuals with a terminal illness are the only ones who can benefit from a living will. However, a valid living will can also help when unexpected scenarios arise, such as a fatal disease or car crash resulting in a coma.

When a Living Will Becomes Effective

A living will is only effective while you’re alive and unable to make sound decisions. Once a doctor deems you incompetent, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to communicate how you want your medical treatment to be handled, your living will can go into effect.

Typically, your medical provider will evaluate your condition to determine whether you no longer have the ability to understand your available treatment options and communicate your wishes.

If you pass away, your living will isn’t effective or enforceable anymore.

Difference Between a Living Will and Last Will and Testament

A last will and testament is much different than a living will. The main difference is that a last will and testament outlines how you want your estate handled when you die. A living will directs people to make health care decisions under specific circumstances when you can’t speak for yourself.

Decisions You Should Include in Your Living Will

If you decide you want to create a living will, you should hire an estate planning attorney and consider your options regarding end-of-life care. The most common scenarios people include in their living wills are:

Feeding Tube

If you’re no longer able to eat on your own, you could receive the fluids and nutrients you need intravenously or through a tube in your stomach. Specific points you should address include:

  • Whether you want a feeding tube
  • When you want to be connected to a feeding tube
  • The length of time you should be fed through a feeding tube

Mechanical Ventilation

Mechanical ventilation occurs when a person can’t breathe on their own. If you want to include these instructions in your living will, you should specify certain information, such as:

  • Whether you want mechanical ventilation
  • The circumstances that should arise to be placed on a ventilator
  • How long you want to be on a ventilator

Medications

You can choose whether you want your doctors to use specific medications in different situations. For example, if you develop a serious infection, you can decide whether you want antibiotics administered.

You might have a strong opinion regarding controlled substances and would rather avoid strong painkillers and similar drugs.

Organ Donation

A living will can include a section on donations. If you want to donate your organs to someone in need, you should specify that in the document. You could also donate your body to science.

Dialysis

If your kidneys don’t function properly anymore, you can indicate whether you want to go on dialysis in your living will. Dialysis performs multiple functions, such as:

  • Assisting in controlling blood pressure
  • Removing waste, extra water, and salt from the body to prevent them from building up
  • Maintaining safe levels of certain chemicals in the blood, such as sodium and potassium

Contact an Estate Planning Attorney Today

If you want to create a living will, you should contact an estate planning attorney from Staubus and Randall today. We can advise you about the various elements of a living will to ensure you address all the necessary scenarios, so your family knows what to do if you can’t make your own decisions anymore. Don’t leave anything to chance. Call 214-691-3411 today.

There is currently more wealth being transferred between generations than at any time in our nation’s history. According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, it is estimated that the baby boom generation will inherit $8.4 trillion over their lifetimes. It is also clear that the number of wills being contested is on the rise. Factors including the blended family, and parents living longer and being cared for either by one of their children or by a private caregiver, can result in late-in-life changes to Last Will and Testaments, which reduce or cut out the shares of family members. This is one of the classic recipes for a will contest. Here is what you need to know if you find yourself in that situation.

When Can a Will be Contested?

A will cannot be contested prior to the testator’s death. After death, it is most advantageous to contest a will prior to the hearing to admit it to probate, which is normally within approximately two weeks after it is filed with the Court. By contesting the will prior to it being admitted to probate by the Court, the burden of proof as to the testator’s mental capacity is placed on the person offering the will for probate, rather than on the contestant, which can be a significant advantage for the contestant.

Once a will has been admitted to probate, a will contestant has up to two years from the date of the contested will’s admission to file a will contest, or it is forever barred. If contested after the will has been admitted to probate, the burden of proof as to the testator’s mental capacity is on the contestant.

What are the Grounds for a Will Contest?

The primary grounds for contesting a will are lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence. In order to prove that a testator had the necessary testamentary capacity at the time the will in question was executed, the person offering the will, assuming the will is contested prior to it being admitted to probate, has the burden of proof to show:

  1. The testator understood the business in which he or she was engaged, the effect of his or her act in making the will, and the general nature and extent of his or her property;
  2. The testator knew his or her next of kin (the “natural objects of his bounty”); and
  3. The testator had sufficient memory to collect in his or her mind the elements of the business to be transacted and to hold them long enough to at least perceive their obvious relation to each other and to form reasonable judgment about them.

In order to prove that a will is not valid because it was executed as the result of the exertion of undue influence on the testator, the contestant has the burden of proof to show:

  • The existence and exertion of an influence;
  • The effective operation of such influence subverted or overpowered the mind of the testator at the time of execution of the will; and
  • The will executed would not have been executed but for such undue influence.
  • Other potential grounds for a will contest are forgery, insane delusion, improper execution of the will, and fraud.

    Important Evidence

    Obtaining the testator’s medical records is critical to any will contest to evaluate and to establish the testator’s mental capacity and susceptibility to undue influence at the time of execution of the will. A forensic psychiatrist can also be important in interpreting these medical records. The testator’s financial records are often critical in assessing the testator’s ability to handle his financial affairs, his knowledge as to the nature and extent of his property, and any evidence that the testator was being financially exploited. Depositions of the attorney (if any) who drafted the will, the witnesses and notary to the Will, and any caregivers of the testator are essential.

    Whether you are contesting a will or are defending a contested will, it is important to have a full legal team experienced in the unique evidentiary issues, rules, strategies, and necessary expert witnesses to effectively assess and litigate a will contest.

    For more information on will contests, or on other estate litigation, trust and fiduciary litigation, guardianships, or closely-held business litigation handled by the firm, visit the firm website, www.srllp.com, where you may download two available white papers on will contests:

    On January 1, 2013, Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA), and shortly thereafter, President Obama signed the bill into law on January 2, 2013, ending what many had worried would lead to falling off of the “fiscal cliff,” being the scheduled radical reduction in estate tax and gift tax exemptions, and significantly higher estate tax and gift tax rates. With the passing of this important legislation, it is prudent to understand how these new laws may impact your personal estate planning.

    Highlights of the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA)

    The following is a summary of the significant provisions of ATRA:

    • Sets a permanent 40% top tax rate for estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) taxes in excess of the exemption amount
    • Unifies estate and gift tax exemptions and currently sets these exemptions, as well as the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption, at $5.25 million per individual
    • Makes permanent “portability” possible by allowing the surviving spouse to elect to add the unused exclusion of the decedent to the surviving spouse’s exclusion, meaning that married couples currently can pass $10.5 million of assets without the worry of gift or estate taxes

    Increase in the Annual Gift Tax Exclusion

    In addition to the changes brought about by the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA), the annual gift tax exclusion amount was increased to $14,000.00 per designee beginning January 1, 2013. This is an inflation-adjusted increase from $13,000.00 in 2012. Married couples may combine their annual gift tax exclusion amounts, which allows them to make tax-exempt gifts totaling $28,000.00 per designee.

    Planning Beyond 2013

    For many individuals who may have delayed estate planning due to the uncertainty that existed in 2012, now is the time to implement new estate plans, given the apparent stability in rates and exemptions for the foreseeable future. Even if estate taxes are not a primary focus or an issue for individuals, proper estate planning can be essential in offering protection from creditors and divorcing spouses, as well as offering protection to children and beneficiaries. Additionally, a well-developed estate plan can provide benefits in income tax planning, which is now particularly important for individuals who find themselves in higher tax brackets. Finally, proper planning is essential to small business owners who wish to do business succession planning to determine how their business will be controlled after their death, as well as which family members or business associates will benefit from and carry on the business.

    Reviewing Existing Plans

    Equally important to the planning process is the necessity of evaluating current family dynamics and changes in relationships which might affect the choices which individuals have made in existing documents, including whom they wish to appoint to make decisions for them under their health care power of attorney or general durable power of attorney, to act as guardians of their minor children or as trustees of their trusts, or to act as executors of their estate.

    Another important issue in evaluating existing estate plans is the need to adequately review the often overlooked status of beneficiary designations on joint accounts with right of survivorship, insurance policies, and retirement accounts. The failure to properly coordinate these designations with the estate plan can cause assets to be distributed to persons which the individual did not intend, in a manner inconsistent with the overall estate plan, due to an incorrect or out-of-date beneficiary designation or account styling. This can also lead to estate tax and income tax implications that were unintended.

    The American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) has significantly impacted tax planning for individuals in the estate planning process. There are a number of important issues beyond estate and gift tax planning which all individuals should address and periodically review in order to secure their future and the future of their family and loved ones.

    Ryan A. Randall, ranked as a Five Star Professional by Texas Monthly Magazine, concentrates his practice in Estate and Tax Planning, Asset Protection Planning, and Business Succession Planning.

    Over the years, having litigated a number of catastrophic tort claims, I have frequently been asked by clients, as well as by students in my tort class at Collin College, to explain the difference between a Wrongful Death Claim and a Survival Claim. I explain the difference between these two claims as follows:

    • A Survival cause of action is something that belongs to the deceased for damages that he or she suffered before they passed away.
    • A Wrongful Death cause of action does not belong to the deceased but instead belongs to the surviving spouse of the deceased, a child of the deceased, or a parent of the deceased.

    The deceased person’s heir or the personal representative of their estate may bring a Survival claim. The claims that may be asserted are claims that the deceased person could have asserted had he or she survived. For instance, if a person was injured in a car accident due to the negligence of someone else and died a few hours later from those injuries, then their heir or their personal representative could assert a claim for the medical bills incurred and the pain and suffering that the person endured from the time of injury to the time of death. This is just an example of a portion of the damages that the personal representative of the estate or the heir of the deceased could assert. Any damages recovered pursuant to a survival claim are subject to the debts of the estate.

    The damages recovered under a Wrongful Death claim are to compensate the surviving spouse, child or parent of the deceased for their loss. These damages typically include loss of financial support, loss of inheritance, mental anguish, and the loss of the relationship. Any damages recovered under a Wrongful Death claim are personal to the Plaintiff, and are not subject to the debts of the deceased.

    Both the Wrongful Death claim and the Survival claim typically have a two-year statute of limitations. There are a few exceptions to this limitation, which can best be addressed with an attorney on a case-by-case basis.

    In some instances, it is preferable to assert only a Wrongful Death claim as opposed to a Survival claim, assuming you are a surviving spouse, child or parent of the deceased and are also an heir of the deceased’s estate. Whether you have an individual claim and/or are an executor or administrator of an estate which holds a potential claim relating to the Decedent’s death, it is important to consult with an attorney regarding the decision as to whether to assert a Wrongful Death Claim, a Survival Claim, or both claims, as well as to the viability and value of these claims.

    Joseph E. Legere’s practice is concentrated in Will Contests, Trust Litigation, Guardianship Litigation, Fiduciary Litigation, and Catastrophic Tort Claims. For more information regarding Mr. Legere’s litigation practice, please visit The Attorneys page at www.srllp.com.

    Sign up for our service view points!

    We're here to help you

    In the pursuit of our clients' cases, we utilize recognized experts, including forensic psychiatrists, forensic accountants, hand-writings experts, and investigators.

    Frequent Asked Questions

    Estate planning is the arrangement of transferring a person’s assets and property after their death. The estate plan you create may consist of cars, homes, life insurance, assets, real estate, jewelry, and other types of personal property. When you create an estate plan, you must sign it in front of a notary public.

    Even if you don’t have many assets, it’s still a good idea to create an estate plan, so that loved ones won’t argue over who gets what when you pass away. Your estate plan will ensure everything you own goes to specified parties and doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

    Typically, those with extensive or complex assets will hire an estate planning lawyer to help draft their will. Many use a will to divide personal property, such as a home, among their family members. When you’re preparing your will, you need to make sure you meet specific legal requirements. Having a witness present when you’re signing the documents is crucial.

    Of course, it’s possible to draft a will on your own, especially if you don’t have significant assets to leave behind. However, hiring an estate planning lawyer can ensure that your documents comply with current law, and that everything gets divided among your family the way you want, so there’s no confusion.

    A power of attorney is a legal document giving power to one person (an agent or attorney-in-fact) to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated. When you create a power of attorney, you can designate a specific person and decide how much authority they will have.

    An attorney-in-fact would maintain records of all decisions made on your behalf. Some decisions could include recommending a guardian for dependents or minor children and financial decisions. They could also make decisions about healthcare.

    If you allow your power of attorney the authority to stop, give, or withhold medical treatment, you can leave instructions on which services you want and don’t want, when to stop life-saving measures, and when to cease specific treatments.

    It’s devastating to lose a loved one, and the last thing anyone wants to do is handle their affairs. However, you must ensure property and assets go to the right people, and everyone follows their final wishes.

    The first thing you should do when your loved one passes away is to request a copy of a legal pronouncement of death. You should also notify close friends and family of their death. If necessary, arrange for the supervision of dependents or minor children. You’ll also be able to find instructions on how to move forward with their plans from their will or trust.

    A trust is a document that places your assets into a trust fund to transfer to a beneficiary upon your death. Most people will create a trust to speed up the process of settling their estate. You can also protect your assets, reduce taxes, and prevent probate.

    With a trust, you’re not only able to control who your assets go to but also how the money gets disbursed. This is especially beneficial if the person you’re leaving money to doesn’t know how to save and spend properly. You can create a payment schedule with a specified amount paid to them on a weekly or monthly basis, rather than as a lump sum.

    Buisness Woman Smilling

    What Our Clients Say

    "I recently had the occasion to hire Mr. Staubus for a hotly contested Guardianship matter. Mr. Staubus brought a rare combination of effectiveness, reasonableness and understanding of the human element involved. Mr. Staubus handled all things in a calm, highly competent, effective and reasonable way. It could not have been as easy as he made it seem. He's a credit to the Bar."

    Jody

    "Before retaining the guidance of the Staubus & Randall firm, I was at my wit's end trying to close an uncle's estate as a co-executor. In addition to dealing with difficult heirs, I had other pressing business issues coming up immediately on estate land in the middle of the Eagleford Shale including dealings with pipeline, seismic, oil & gas, and construction companies. The local bank also refused to give me access to information relating to the estate. This quickly became the most stressful and desperate time in my life...and then I found Joseph Legere who truly became my guardian angel. He was able to get all issues resolved efficiently and the estate fully closed. His professionalism, immense legal knowledge on a wide variety of topics, and amazing communication skills took the burdens off of me and quickly got closure. I am forever indebted to this firm for giving me my life back."

    Martha

    "Without exception, the legal service, professional attitude, prompt communication of your firm and your legal knowledge is second to none. I only wish I had an attorney here in Boston that could hold a candle to your experience and expertise. Working with you has been a pleasure, but even more, has made me believe that there are knowledgeable attorneys that do care about doing a good job. Thank you Keith! You may not truly understand how much of an impact you are having on peoples lives, but for me, you have helped change my life. As I begin making my dreams come true I can't help but remember none of this would be possible without you."

    Joann

    "Keith Staubus and Julie Blankenship and their team represented me in a jury trial in the probate court where the ownership of the business which I had worked hard to build was at stake. They successfully fought to preserve my business and my professional reputation, working masterfully to gain the support of the jury. I would not hesitate to hire them again in any bet-the-company litigation.”

    Karen

    "I have required legal representation twice in my life in two separate will contests. Both times I sought assistance from Keith Staubus and Staubus/Randall. Their service, approach, and determination to obtain results exceeded the other attorneys in each case. Mr. Staubus has always come across as genuine while being direct. He gets the process done in a timely manner with results. I will certainly use him again when and if any new challenges arise.”

    David

    "After my husband's death, I was devastated by having to defend against a vicious dispute over my husband's estate. Julie Blankenship and Keith Staubus made me feel very comfortable in this distressing situation. They were very tough and did an excellent job for me in obtaining a summary judgment in my favor without a full jury trial. I was glad to have them and Diane Walker in my corner to help me achieve an excellent result - I won! If I ever had to go back to probate court, I would hire them again.” - (will and trust construction case)

    Flo

    "If you need intervention for someone you love but don't know where to turn or who to turn to, Julie Blankenship and Keith Staubus helped me through the most difficult and stressful time in my life with a much loved family member. I now believe that good will triumph over evil. They fought for what was right, and good prevailed." (contested guardianship and will contest)

    Janet

    "As a professional money manager, I have used Ryan Randall's estate planning services both personally and for my clients. Ryan has exhibited three critical attributes in his work with me: (1) high intellectual capacity, (2) exceptional thoroughness, and (3) a total commitment to integrity. In today's litigious world, it can be quite costly not to "get things done right.” An added bonus to us was that we found one of the nicest people we could imagine.”

    John

    "I was represented by Keith Staubus as an income beneficiary in a lawsuit with the trustee of a family trust. Utilizing the expertise of a forensic accountant and his own trust expertise, Keith was able to negotiate a judicial modification of the trust providing for the buyout of my income interest for a substantial lump sum payment out of the trust, resulting in a win-win situation for all of the parties. I highly recommend Staubus/Randall for any trust disputes and trust modification actions."

    Kathy

    "I have been a wealth management specialist and retirement plan consultant with the Dallas/Fort Worth financial community for over 20 years. I have engaged Ryan Randall to work with a number of my best clients over the years, including business owners, professionals and families. My clients always appreciate Ryan’s straightforward approach to estate planning, asset protection planning and business succession planning. He makes even the most sophisticated estate planning strategies understandable."

    Larry

    What planning we can sue for?

    When a loved one dies, and the execution of their estate plan begins, many disputes can arise among family members. Despite the decedent's creation of a good estate plan, problems can occur if a power of attorney doesn’t perform their duties or someone’s unhappy with the division and distribution of assets.

    The most common disputes estate lawyers see include:

    Bad fiduciary selection

    A majority of disputes arise when the power of attorney, executor, or trustee doesn’t correctly perform their duties when their loved one dies. That failure is called a breach of fiduciary duty. Common breaches include:

    • Failure to file tax returns
    • Using assets for personal benefit
    • Failure to provide tax and accounting information to beneficiaries
    • Dividing and distributing assets improperly

    To avoid these issues, you should ensure your loved one chooses the right fiduciary during the process of planning their estate. Careful selection can ensure there’s no breach of duty, and they act in the deceased’s best interest.

    Will or Trust Contest

    When someone contests a trust or will, it’s either because they don’t think it’s legally valid or believe someone influenced the creator into making decisions they didn’t want to make.

    To be legal, the creator of the will must sign under specific circumstances and in a particular manner. In Texas, the person must meet the following requirements:

    • Be at least 18 years of age;
    • Be of sound mind, meaning they’re able to make decisions and understand the consequences of a will;
    • Sign the will themselves;
    • Signature of at least two witnesses; and
    • List at least one beneficiary.

    Improper execution of a will is less common than undue influence. Many will argue that the creator of the trust or will made their decisions because of another party. The person accused of undue influence could be a friend, caregiver, professional advisor, or family member.

    Distribution of property

    Sometimes conflicts will arise when the creator of a will or trust intends to leave someone their property but dies before they can change their estate plan to reflect that decision. Other instances create conflicts when beneficiaries believe the distribution of property is unfair or inequitable.

    Busniess Handshake

    How should I handle estate law disputes?

    If you come across the disputes listed above or any other types of disputes, there are options for resolving them. The remedy you choose will depend on the particular conflict and the people involved.

    • Remove the executor: If there’s a problem with the executor of the estate, you might need to replace or remove them. Finding a replacement can be difficult, especially finding one that all parties are happy with. However, it’s the best decision to ensure everyone is satisfied with how the estate gets handled. The best choice would be a neutral third party who doesn’t hold any biases.
    • Litigation: To litigate a dispute, you must be an inheritor and have sufficient grounds for pursuing a lawsuit. Most people will litigate if they believe there was an improper distribution of the property or suffered a financial loss because someone mismanaged the estate.
    • Mediation: This is the best option for individuals who want to settle the issues amicably, timely, and inexpensively. Mediations usually bring about quick results and cost less than litigation. You also have complete control over the outcome because there isn’t a judge or jury involved.

    The Firm

    The attorneys at Staubus and Randall have over 100 years of combined experience in estate planning, probate, and litigation. We have the knowledge and skills to tackle complex legal issues, such as guardianships, will contests, fiduciary litigation, and trust litigation. We can also handle routine matters, such as estate administration, probating wills, heirship determinations, and other probate court matters.

    Staubus and Randall received a preeminent AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating possible from a peer-rated legal service. This rating recognizes our hard work, dedication, and the case results we’re able to achieve.

    Staubus & Randall Team
    Martindale Hubbell Perr Review Rated
    Rated by superlawyers
    Superlawyers logo
    Superlawyers logo
    Contact Us With Your Estate Planning or Litigation Need

    We Offer free Consultations