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After a divorce, most people assume that the divorce decree has taken care of everything relating to their shared assets and finances.  Unfortunately, this is not always true.  After a divorce decree is signed, there are several important steps that need to be addressed to fully complete the process, particularly in the area of estate planning.   One vital step after a divorce is to update estate planning documents and beneficiary designations, or to get an estate plan in place if one has never been prepared.  For example, if your planning documents were based on a marriage relationship that no longer exists, it is probably necessary to update your documents to reflect your desires for your executors and agents.  Also, it usually the case that …

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Beneficiaries under a Will must have the Will probated for it to be effective.  Unfortunately, the person with the Will sometimes sits on their hands.  For example, what should a person do when a parent has died, but the step-mom (whom you believe has custody of the Will) isn’t doing anything with it?      Out of respect for grief and family harmony, children often allow some time to pass after a death before asking a step-parent about the deceased biological parent’s Will that they know or believe exists.  But, after some time has elapsed, the children would like to know whether there is, in fact, a Will and whether anything is going to be done with it.   Why does this happen?   This …

Lost Life Insurance Policies

In Life Insurance, Probate by Tarleton

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The Problem.    Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for life insurance policies to be purchased by young adults who then bury the policy documents in a file drawer but keep paying premiums every year.  Even though the policy is usually bought to provide a safety net for young children, when the children become adults the parents may never fully inform the children about the policies that may still exist.   In addition to uninformed family members, an added problem is that some life insurers have historically not been proactive about pursuing payment of death benefits to beneficiaries.   In 2016, 60 Minutes aired a story covering the audits of dozens of large insurance companies who agreed to pay more than $7.5 billion in back death benefits …

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When determining which assets require the probate process, it is important to understand the difference between assets that are categorized as “probate” assets versus those that are “non-probate” assets.   PROBATE ASSETS.   These are assets that are held in the deceased individual’s name at the time of his or her death, and are distributed by the probate process to the heirs or beneficiaries of the estate.  Such assets generally consist of any of the assets that are not otherwise distributed through a non-probate process, as described below.  The probate process used to transfer a probate asset can vary depending on the type of asset and whether a Will exists.  When a valid Will exists and the Will appoints an Independent Executor, the probate process can …

What are the risks of DIY Wills?

In Probate, Wills by Tarleton

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CONSIDER THIS BEFORE WRITING A DIY WILL   Thinking about writing your own Will in Texas without an attorney?  First, consider the following points.   We all know that a Will is one of the most significant legal documents you’ll ever sign, and it provides an opportunity to: (1) have your wishes heard (and followed) and (2) make sure things go smoothly for your family after you pass.  An improperly written Will or incorrectly executed Will can end up failing to achieve either goal, and worst of all you won’t know until it’s too late whether you got it right.  If a mistake was made, your family will have to find that out at the same time they are dealing with losing you.   Every …

What is Probate?

In Blended Families, Probate by Tarleton

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The probate process in Texas is often misunderstood.  The term “probate” simply means the court-supervised process for handling the estate of a deceased person. Probate includes paying off any debts, expenses, and taxes, and the distribution of any remaining property according to the Will (if a valid Will exists) or to the heirs under Texas laws regarding intestacy (“intestacy” means no valid Will exists).   It is important to note that, under Texas Estates Code Section 256.003, a Will must be filed for probate within four years after the death of the testator (the person who made the Will).  After four years, a Will may be filed as a “muniment of title” if the applicant is not “in default”.   Initial probate steps If there is a …