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Dallas Estate Planning Attorney

Planning for your passing includes much more than just preparing funeral arrangements. When you pass away, there’s the question of what happens to your assets, which includes property, owned businesses, financial assets, investments, or anything else that has monetary value – or even sentimental value. More important than money is making sure that are taken care of. The goal of any well-crafted estate plan is to avoid ambiguity or conflict when it comes time for your family to handle your assets. This is why carefully creating a thoughtful estate plan is so important.

Creating an estate plan, whether it’s a will or a trust, is best handled with the help of experienced estate planning attorneys. This will help ensure that your will or trust is not only legally valid in the state of Texas, but also that your last wishes are carried out correctly. You also want to avoid the worst-case scenario: a contested will that leads to your family and loved ones being involved in long and costly court battles.

Led by board certified estate planner Ryan Randall, the experienced Dallas estate planning attorneys and legal team here at Staubus and Randall are here to help. We will work with you every step of the way to create an estate plan that best articulates your last wishes.

What Is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is the process of creating a plan that describes what happens to your assets after you die or become mentally incapacitated. An estate plan will determine how your assets are divided and distributed. This plan includes designating the specific individuals who will receive your assets – the beneficiaries. If you have children who are minors, or other non-adult loved ones whom you have legal guardianship of, you can designate a new legal guardian to care for them after you die.

Estate plans may also contain instructions for resolving financial issues such as paying off debts and taxes. Also, remember that an estate plan can be used for more than death planning: estate plans may also provide instructions for what happens if you are mentally incapacitated or unable to give consent for medical decisions. Your estate plan should include powers of attorney to designate the persons who you wish to make medical decisions for you and handle your finances.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you determine if it will be financially advantageous for you to create a will or trust, depending on the nature of your assets, the size of your estate, and various tax implications involved.

How to Begin to Create an Estate Plan in Texas

The person who executes the will is called a testator. The name of the person who creates a living trust is called a grantor or settlor. The testator or grantor must be 18 years of age or older, with a sound mind (mentally capable of understanding and making decisions).

A good place to start when creating an estate plan is to take inventory of all your assets. Consider your property, financial holdings, and other valuables. Gather relevant legal documents, such as the deed to your house.

You must also decide on who will be the beneficiaries of your assets. If you choose, you can put conditions on certain assets. For example, you can name someone to whom a certain amount of money will be given for college expenses. Be aware that creating conditions can be complicated, and some conditions may not be legally valid, especially when creating a will, so it is recommended that you consult with an attorney on the specific details of your plan.

There are two types of wills recognized in Texas:

  • Attested or formal will: This is a will that is typed, typically written on a computer. Texas law requires that this type of will is signed by you in the presence of at least two witnesses over the age of 14. This type of will is typically written and prepared with guidance from an attorney.
  • A holographic will: This is a type of will that is fully handwritten and signed by the testator. This does not require the presence of witnesses. The state bar of Texas notes that this type of will leaves more opportunities for it to be contested when compared to a formal or attested will.

One of the most common types of trusts is a living trust. With a living trust, the assets you place in your trust will be distributed to your beneficiaries at the time of your death by the representative, or successor trustee, you chose. With a living trust, the grantor retains the power to change the trust while they’re living.

There are other trust options you may consider for specific circumstances. A skilled attorney will review your assets, your circumstances, and your wishes to help you determine the best options to meet your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

It’s always best to discuss your specific circumstances and wishes with an experienced estate planning attorney. However, we’ve provided answers to some of the questions we most often receive about estate planning.

What is included in an estate?

Estate planning generally takes into account all of the assets owned by an individual. These may include:

  • Real estate property and land
  • Cash holdings
  • Investment assets, such as stocks, bonds, and trusts
  • Vehicles and equipment
  • Family heirlooms
  • Valuables such as art and collectibles

What happens if I don’t have an estate plan or a will?

If you die without having a will or a living trust, your estate is distributed in accordance with Texas Probate law. Your assets are divided among your children and your spouse, or your parents, if you are unmarried and childless. This is a formulaic process that does not take into account the specific needs of your loved ones; its intention is to find an heir for your assets. If you want a say in what happens to your estate after you die, you must leave behind an estate plan.

What does it mean for an estate plan to be contested?

A will or a trust is contested when someone challenges the validity of the estate plan by filing a lawsuit. They may argue that the person who created the estate plan was not mentally capable of making informed decisions, or that it did not accurately reflect the person’s true wishes. To reduce the possibility of having your estate plan contested, make sure that it fully complies with Texas estate law.

Also, make sure that the estate plan is written in concise language that leaves little room for misinterpretation. This is why it is recommended you draft your plan with the help of an attorney. An attorney experienced in estate law will ensure that the will or trust is legally compliant and written in a manner that reduces the possibility of it being contested.

How is an estate plan carried out after death?

When you create a will, you will name someone to oversee the distribution of your assets. The person is known as the executor. After your death, the executor files a petition to the Texas Probate Court. This is a court that oversees the execution of wills and handles estate-related issues. This court will conduct a hearing to officially approve the executor. Once approved, the executor is legally authorized to carry out the instructions laid out in the will.

However, before assets can be distributed, the court requires that the executor submit a record of all the assets named in the will. This includes a list of the property owned by the will testator. The assets are then appraised by the court to determine their value at the time of death. After these steps are complete, then your will executor can begin to distribute your assets to your beneficiaries.

When the grantor or settlor of a living trust dies, their assets become the property of the trust. A successor trustee will be responsible for gathering and distributing the grantor’s assets in accordance with the terms of the estate planning document.

What are common issues with estate plans?

Estate plans must be carefully prepared and comply with Texas law in order to be valid. Some potential issues with estate plans include:

  • Duplicate documents: It’s not uncommon for people to create an estate plan, and then, later on, create another one to update their last wishes or to include newly acquired assets. However, you need to be very careful because if you leave behind multiple versions of your will or trust, it can lead to court challenges and delays in distributing your assets. It is recommended to maintain only one document, and to destroy any older drafts.
  • Choosing the wrong executor or successor trustee: Your executor or successor trustee will play a very important role in distributing your assets after your death. They are given legal responsibility to take care of your financial obligations and distribute your assets to your beneficiaries. Make sure you choose someone you fully trust. Also, verify that they have no financial or legal troubles, as the courts may determine this person is not suitable.
  • Health and mental capacity: Don’t wait until it’s too late: you want to create your estate plan while you are still healthy and do not have mental impairments such as dementia. When you create a will, for example, you must have what is known as testamentary capacity. This means that you are mentally healthy enough to understand the general natrue and extent of your property, who your family is, that you are creating a will, and the consequences of the will. If the court determines that you lacked testamentary capacity, they can invalidate your will.

Get Started on Your Estate Plan Today

The knowledgeable and compassionate Dallas estate planning attorneys at Staubus and Randall will walk you through every step of creating an estate plan that is tailored to your specific needs, whether it’s a will, or a trust, or even a combination of the two, depending on your circumstances.

Whether you are just starting on creating a will, or have questions about an existing one, give us a call at 214-691-3411 today.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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