Livens & Reed, PLLC

Dallas Estate Planning Law Blog

Asset protection and elder financial abuse

People today are living longer than ever, which is wonderful, but also means that they need their savings to stretch further than before. While many seniors feel comfortable with their finances, there are those who want to take advantage of them and will go to great lengths to steal seniors' money, even when they are related to the victim. Worse still is that around a third of seniors don't know how to report the abuse, even when they recognize it. Experts say there are ways for financial advisors and others to pick up on potential elder financial abuse. Asset protection is vital for seniors in Texas and across the country who want to be certain that their assets last them through the end of their life.

Initially, a senior should delegate certain responsibilities to chosen people. First, a durable power of attorney is a person who can handle the senior's finances if he or she is unable to for any reason. The senior can also create a revocable trust and assign a co-trustee to ensure that it is used properly. Though this is generally a step for those who have high assets, it's still a great step to consider. Another designation to make are multiple trusted contacts, who can all serve as a check and balance for one another to ensure that the original estate owner's wishes are being honored.

What to include in a Texas estate plan

When it comes to planning for the future, most people in Texas recognize the importance of estate planning. Despite this recognition, some people may find the task daunting. In fact, some people are even unsure what documents are important to include in an estate plan.

Perhaps the most important document -- and the one with which most people are familiar -- is the will. This documents serves a variety of different functions, including determining how assets will be divided upon the testator's death. However, beneficiaries listed on a retirement fund, for example, take precedence over the will so it is necessary to update beneficiaries if something changes. Additionally, many people choose to create a trust; assets that are in a trust do not have to go through the probate process. 

Gift giving as part of estate planning

When people in Texas plan for a future in which they may no longer be present, they often have multiple decisions to make. Ultimately, the decisions that they make could impact how much of their estate their loved ones will have to enjoy. Because most everyone wants to ensure that the maximum amount of their estate goes to the intended recipient, those making such plans often consider whether gift giving in advance of their death is a necessary part of estate planning.

In the past, many people considered gift giving in an attempt to reduce the amount of taxes paid on the estate. However, this isn't necessary for the vast majority of people in the United States. Currently, $11.4 million is exempted from federal estate tax -- an amount that increases each year to account for inflation; as a result, only a very small number of estates are subject to federal taxes. Though the amount is set to fall to $6 million in 2026 if legislative action is not taken, only approximately 0.2% of people would be impacted if that were to happen.

Choosing the most appropriate trustee for an estate

There are a variety of different decisions that go into the process of how assets will be divided. Many of these include how assets will be divided and how they will be treated. Perhaps one of the most important decisions that must be made involves who will be managing a Texas estate in addition to how it will be divided. 

For many people, the most obvious answer is one of their adult children. However, this could potentially cause conflict among other children. While some people have chosen to name all of their children as their co-trustees, this can also create conflict if the children have differing ideas about the estate's administration. Few siblings, for example, have experienced years of legal maneuvering when they were named as co-trustees.

Does a childless couple need a will?

Many people in Texas have a certain idea of what a family looks like. However, the reality is that families come in all shapes and sizes. For example, many couples, for a variety of different reasons, do not have children. Because there is a misconception that a will is only necessary to ensure that children are provided for in the event their parents are no longer able to provide such care, many childless couples may not fully understand the implications of a lack of an estate plan.

Regardless of whether there are children involved, a will can help determine how a person's assets are divided. Those without children often want their friends, favorite charities or alma mater to benefit. Without a will in place, however, the state in which the couple lives will make a determination regarding the division of assets.

Including pets as part of the estate planning process

Families in Texas and across the country can have a variety of different compositions. In fact, some families may count more than humans as members of their family. For many, the family pet is a member of the family whose owners want to ensure is protected even when they are not around to do so. Fortunately, there are measures that can be taken in the estate planning process that can help ensure this.

It is often beneficial to have a conversation with friends or family members to help determine who would be willing to take care of the pet in case the person becomes incapacitated or passes away unexpectedly. Unfortunately, animal shelters are accustomed to receiving pets from owners who can no longer provide appropriate care. Fortunately, there are steps that can help ensure an animal receives appropriate care.

Is it necessary to have a will if there is a trust?

Many people in Texas go to great lengths to make plans for the future, even including planning for a future in which they may no longer be present. Often, this includes the creation of important estate planning documents, including a trust. However, some people may be confused about whether they need a will in addition to a trust. 

Trusts are powerful tools that give those who create them a great deal of control over their estate. They do have testamentary benefits, meaning that they can transfer the decedent's assets upon his or her death. However, they can only do so for assets that have been transferred into the trust.

What is elder law?

Depending on a person's age and physical and financial well-being, his or her legal needs will likely differ. This is especially true for the elderly in Texas and across the country. As such, there are attorneys who specialize in elder law, ensuring that the needs of the elderly and their families are adequately met.

One important aspect of elder law deals with the appointment of a guardian or conservator. Guardianships and conservatorships often impact the elderly because they are more often affected by incapacitation due to their age or illness. A court will make a determination whether a guardian is needed, and the person named will be in charge of making medical and other care-related decisions. A conservator serves a similar role but handles his or her ward's financial concerns. 

Absence of a will can create family conflict

No family is perfect. While all have their disagreements, there are some siblings who simply cannot get along. Unfortunately, this contention can continue -- perhaps even intensify -- after a parent passes away. However, having a will in place in Texas -- and giving the appropriate people access to it -- can often help reduce confusion and arguments between siblings following the death of a parent.

Unfortunately, uncertainties about a will has one woman in another state questioning the decisions made my her sister following their mother's death. The woman says that her sister -- who was their mother's caretaker -- claims there is no will, arguing that their mother did not want her to have any inheritance. In the meantime, the woman claims that her sister is selling her mother's belongings.

Role of power of attorney in elder law

Planning for financial security later in life is important, and many people in Texas understand this. However, people do not always anticipate that there may come a point when they might not be able to handle their own finances. Financial powers of attorney can help address this issue and are an important part of elder law. However, having a power of attorney for a loved one can be difficult, so here are a few things to keep in mind.

When managing a relative's finances with a financial power of attorney, it is possible that other family members might second-guess decisions. Disputes between family members can even lead to audits of that person's activities. Even though most people who hold powers of attorney do their very best to fulfill loved ones' wishes and needs, audits leave these individuals in vulnerable situations.


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