When I first launched this blog, I did so with an article about estate planning and the legal woes facing the relatives of several celebrities who had passed away without an estate plan in place. Thus, it seems fitting to re-launch this blog with comments made recently by the long-reigning Queen of Country, Dolly Parton, in which Ms. Parton showed she has learned from the mistakes of her peers by planning ahead.
“I’m one of those people that believe in being prepared,” says Ms. Parton. “I don’t want to ever leave my stuff in the same shape like Prince or Aretha or anybody that don’t plan ahead.” In Ms. Parton’s case, that includes laying down vocal tracks while she’s alive that can be inserted into future songs, thus ensuring that her voice will continue to earn money for her estate and heirs long after she has departed this earthly plane.
But you don’t need to be an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, or even a Tony winner to need an estate planning attorney. Anyone who lives or owns property in Texas should seriously consider making an estate plan.
There are several reasons to have an estate plan, as I’ve explained in past posts. Today, I’d like to talk about another reason - if you don’t have a will in place, the state of Texas has a default one for you. Most people are vaguely aware of this fact but don’t know the details. Many times, in fact, I’ve had a married person ask “If I die, everything goes to my spouse anyway, right?” And inevitably they are surprised when I say “It depends."
If, for example, you are married with two children and die without a will, your spouse will inherit all of your community property, but only 1/3rd of your separate property. The remaining ⅔ of your separate property will go to your children. If your children are underage, a court will decide who should be in charge of their portion of your estate until they’re 18, and the court may choose someone other than your spouse. By working with an estate planning attorney, you can make the best decisions for your family ahead of time.
As another example of why the default plan isn’t something you should rely upon, let’s say you have two children from a previous marriage and have re-married. If you die, your new spouse will only get 1/3 of your separate property, but also the right to use your joint residence for the rest of their life, even if it wasn’t community property. Your children will also inherit your 1/2 interest in community property - meaning they now own it jointly with your new spouse. And although they may legally own some portion of your residence, they can’t kick your new spouse out. This can lead to disagreement, discord, and even litigation, especially in cases where the new spouse and the children don’t have a good relationship to begin with. An appropriate estate plan could easily avoid all those problems.
As a final example, more trouble can arise if you’re not legally married to your partner. Under Texas law, if you die without being legally married and without any children, all your property goes to your surviving parents and/or siblings. Many times, this leads to long-term partners finding themselves not only grieving the loss of a loved one but also scrambling for a new place to live and worrying about money. Having an estate plan in place will prevent this from happening.
Avoid unnecessary turmoil, heartache, expense, and wasted time. Get an estate plan in place. Contact me today to schedule a free consultation.