Category: Capacity

Grounds for Contesting a Will

Grounds for Contesting a Will

As a beneficiary of a will, if you don’t agree with how the assets are being distributed, you may have grounds for contesting the will. MSN’s recent article entitled “Contesting a Will? You Might Not Need a Lawyer” says to do this you must have a legitimate legal reason to challenge the will, such as one of the most common arguments:

  • Lack of mental capacity. If the person making the will (the “testator”) wasn’t “of sound mind,” he or she may not understand their decisions. The testator must be able to understand what they own, who their natural heirs are and what they are giving and to whom.
  • Fraud, undue influence, or forgery. Some people are tricked into signing a will, are forced to create a will under duress, or have their signature forged.
  • Multiple wills. In this situation, the one that was made most recently is often the one that the courts will decide is valid. However, wills created immediately before death may be contested due to undue influence, lack of mental capacity, or other reasons.
  • The state requirements aren’t met. Every state has specific requirements as to what must be in a will, the way in which it’s signed and the number of witnesses required. If these elements aren’t met, then the will may not be valid.
  • Location. Some states may not recognize wills created in another state.

To contest the will, you must have grounds, or legal standing, which means you must meet one of these requirements:

  • A prior will designates you as a beneficiary;
  • The current will designates you as a beneficiary;
  • You’re the beneficiary of a more recent will made after the one in question; or
  • You would be an heir if there was no will, and the state’s laws of intestacy were applied.

Your attorney will next file a petition in the state probate court where the estate is under probate. This tells the probate court that you are a beneficiary and the estate that you are contesting the will. If your case is not settled, it goes to court where you’ll make your argument as to why the will should be changed. The court will decide the outcome of your case.

A way to keep family members  from fighting over an estate is add a no-contest clause into the will. This disinherits any beneficiary who challenges a will, if their challenge fails. In order words, if you don’t win your challenge, you get nothing from the estate. If you would like to read more about wills and probate, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: MSN (May 30, 2022) “Contesting a Will? You Might Not Need a Lawyer”

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Even Young Adults Need a Will

Even Young Adults Need a Will

Even young adults need a will. Everyone, age 18 and older, needs at least some basic estate planning documents. That’s true even if you own very little. You still need an advance health care directive and a power of attorney. These documents designate agents to make decisions for you, in the event you become incapacitated.

The Los Angeles Daily News’ recent article entitled “Estate planning, often overwhelming, starts with the basics” reminds us that incapacity doesn’t just happen to the elderly. It can happen from an accident, a health crisis, or an injury. To have these documents in place, you just need to state the person you want to make decisions for you and generally what those decisions should be.

An experienced estate planning attorney will help you draft your will by using a questionnaire you complete before your initial meeting. This helps you to organize and list the information required. It also helps the attorney spot issues, such as taxes, blended families and special needs. You will list your assets — real property, business entities, bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, cars, life insurance and anything else you may own. The estimated or actual value of each item should also be included. If you have life insurance or retirement plans, attach a copy of the beneficiary designation form.

An experienced estate planning attorney will discuss your financial and family situation and offer options for a plan that will fit your needs.

The attorney may have many different solutions for the issues that concern you and those you may not have considered. These might include a child with poor money habits, a blended family where you need to balance the needs of a surviving spouse with the expectations of the children from a prior marriage, a pet needing ongoing care, or your thoughts about who to choose as your trustee or power of attorney.

There are many possible solutions, and you aren’t required to know them before you move ahead with your estate planning.

Young adults need a will. If you are an adult, you know generally what you own, your name and address and the names of your spouse and children or any other beneficiaries you’d like to include in your plan. So, you’re ready to move ahead with your estate planning. The key is to do this now and not procrastinate. If you would like to learn more about estate planning for young adults, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Los Angeles Daily News (July 24, 2022) “Estate planning, often overwhelming, starts with the basics”

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Tips to avoid a Contested Will

Tips to avoid a Contested Will

A last will and testament is the document used to direct your executor to distribute assets and property according to your wishes. However, it’s not uncommon for disgruntled or distant family members or others to dispute the validity of the will. There are tips to avoid a contested will. A recent article titled “5 Reasons A Law Will May Be Contested” from Vents Magazine explains the top five factors to keep in mind when preparing your will.

Undue influence is a commonly invoked reason for a challenge. If a potential beneficiary can prove the person making the will (the testator) was influenced by another person to make decisions they would not have otherwise made, a will challenge could be brought to court. Undue influence means the testator’s decision was significantly affected by a person who stood to gain something by the outcome of the will and made a concerted effort to change the testator’s mind.

Even if there was no evidence of fraud, any suspicion of the testator’s being influenced is enough for a court to accept a case. If you think someone unduly influenced a loved one, especially if they suffer from any mental frailties or dementia, you may have cause to bring a case.

Outright fraud or forgery is another reason for the will to be contested. If there have been many erasures or signature styles appear different from one document to another, there may have been fraud. An estate planning attorney should examine documents to evaluate whether there is enough cause for suspicion to challenge the will.

Improper witnesses. The testator is required to sign the will with witnesses present. In some states, only one witness is required. In most states, two witnesses must be present to sign the will in front of the testator. A beneficiary may not be a witness to the signing of the will. Some states have changed laws to allow for remote signings in response to COVID. If the rules have not been followed, the will may be invalid.

Mistaken identity seems farfetched. However, it is a common occurrence, especially when someone has a common name or more than one person in the family has the same name, and the document has not been properly signed or witnessed. This could create confusion and make the document vulnerable to a challenge. An experienced estate planning attorney will know how to prepare documents to withstand any challenges.

Capacity in the law means someone is able to understand the concept of a will and contents of the document they are signing, along with the identities of the people to whom they are leaving their assets. The testator doesn’t need to have perfect mental health, so people with mild cognitive impairments, such as depression or anxiety, may make and sign a will. A medical opinion may be needed, if there might be any doubt as to whether a person had testamentary capacity when the will is signed.

A contested will can be time-consuming and expensive, so keep these tips in mind to avoid it, especially if the family includes some litigious individuals. If you would like to learn more about drafting a will, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Vents Magazine (May 6, 2022) “5 Reasons A Law Will May Be Contested”

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Be certain You've got Legal Documents for your College Kid

Be certain You’ve got Legal Documents for your College Kid

There are few things more exciting as a parent than seeing your child come of age and embark on adulthood. That often means leaving home to start a career or enter college. It is at this stage that you need to be certain you’ve got legal documents in place for your college kid. The Press-Enterprise’s recent article entitled “Legal documents for young adults” describes some of the important legal and estate planning documents your “kid” (who’s now an adult) should have.

HIPAA Waiver. This form allows medical personnel to provide information to the parties you’ve named in the document. Without it, even mom would be prohibited from accessing her 19-year-old adult’s health information—even in an emergency. However, know that this form doesn’t authorize anyone to make decisions. For that, see Health Care Directives below.

Health Care Directive. Also known as a health care power of attorney, this authorizes someone else to make health care decisions for you and details the decisions you’d like made.

Durable Power of Attorney. Once your child turns 18, you’re no longer able to act on their behalf, make decisions for them, or enter into any kind of an agreement binding them. This can be a big concern, if your adult child becomes incapacitated. A springing durable power of attorney is a document that becomes effective only upon the incapacity of the principal (the person signing the document). It’s called a “springing” power because it springs into effect upon incapacity, rather than being effective immediately.

A durable power of attorney, whether springing or immediate, states who can make decisions for you upon your incapacity and what powers the agent has. The designated agent will typically be able to access bank accounts, pay bills, file insurance claims, engage attorneys or other professionals, and in general, act on behalf of the incapacitated person.

They’ll always be your babies, but once your child turns 18, he or she is legally an adult.

Be certain that you’ve got the legal documents in place to be there for your college kid in case of an emergency.

Remember a spring break, when they’re home for summer after their 18th birthday, or a senior road trip are all opportunities when these documents may be needed. If you would like to learn more about estate planning for young adults, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Press-Enterprise (April 2, 2022) “Legal documents for young adults”

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how divorcing over fifty effects estate planning

How Divorcing over Fifty effects Estate Planning

If you are and older couple considering a divorce, take care to consider how divorcing over fifty effects estate planning. According to the Pew Research Center, the divorce rate has more than doubled for people over 50 since the 1990s. The Pandemic is also adding to the uptick, says AARP’s recent article entitled “Getting Divorced? It’s Time to Update Your Caregiving Plan.”

A divorce can be financially draining. Moreover, later-in-life divorces frequently impact women’s finances more than men’s. That is because in addition to depressed earnings from time spent out of the workforce raising children, women find themselves more financially vulnerable post-divorce and more likely to serve as caregivers again in the future. Even so, for partners of all genders, it is important to consider the longer-term financial outlook, not just the financial situation you’re in when you are actually dissolving the marriage.

You and your spouse will be dividing assets and liabilities and the responsibilities regarding spousal support. How one of you will live if the other gets sick or passes away should also be part of this conversation.

Consider where you’ll need to make changes. One may be removing your spouse from beneficiary designations on all your accounts. (In some states, this is automatic.) Your divorce agreement may also include buying life insurance or maintaining a trust or beneficiary designations for one another.

Create or update your estate plan immediately. You should also ask your estate planning attorney to review your marital agreement. They will have suggestions about how to align your estate plan with your divorce obligations. If you and your ex are co-parenting children, your estate plan should address who their guardians will be, if both biological parents pass away. It is also important to address who will manage any inheritance, if you don’t want your ex-spouse handling assets you may leave to your children.

Create your life care plan, which means naming health care proxies or surrogates (who will take care of your medical affairs, if you’re in need of caregiving), designating a financial power of attorney (who will take care of your finances and legal affairs), and naming a guardian for yourself if you’re incapacitated.

Consider the way in which your divorce will impact your children and extended family if you need caregiving. At a minimum, agree between yourselves what level of contact you can manage and, if you share children and loved ones, know that your lives will cross along the way.

While your marriage may not last, the connections will, so make a wise plan. Your estate planning attorney will help advise you on how divorcing over fifty effects your estate planning. If you would like to learn more about estate planning and divorce, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: AARP (Jan. 25, 2022) “Getting Divorced? It’s Time to Update Your Caregiving Plan”

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Mistakes can lead to an Invalid Will

Mistakes can lead to an Invalid Will

One of the many reasons an experienced estate planning attorney is the best resource for creating an estate plan, including a Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy, is the confidence of knowing your estate plan has been properly prepared. People who believe they know better than an experienced lawyer, often send their families into a legal, financial, and emotional black hole after they die. Mistakes can lead to an invalid will. The article “Red Flags Indicating a Potentially Invalid Will” from The National Law Journal provides a closer look at why it pays to work with a professional.

When a decedent executes a new Last Will near the end of their life and makes a dramatic change to previous estate plans, there may be trouble ahead. When this is the case, several issues need to be examined to ensure that the document is valid. Strong consideration must be given to whether the person had sufficient capacity to execute the document.

When a person is suffering from an illness or near death, they may be susceptible to the improper influence of people who may cause them to make uncharacteristic changes to their estate plan. Any Last Will drafted within the last few months of a person’s life requires careful review.

If, shortly after a person has handed the reins of their financial life to another, using a Power of Attorney in any of its forms (Durable POA, Springing POA) and a new Last Will is created, a red flag should be raised, especially if the Last Will has been changed to benefit this person.

What if a person’s capacity was hovering near the borderline of capacity and incapacity? If a decedent’s mental capacity was questionable at the time the Last Will was executed, the Last Will may not be valid. A person with legal mental capacity must understand the assets they own and clearly understand to whom they are bequeathing assets. The standard for this issue is low, but if the decedent was suffering from a degenerative mental condition or a sudden onset of incapacity due to an illness or accident, the Last Will may be challenged.

If a layperson creates a Last Will or uses an online service to create it and the Last Will does not comply with the state’s estate laws, the Last Will may have technical issues rendering it invalid. When this occurs, it is as if there were no Last Will at all and the estate is distributed according to the laws of the state.

The biggest red flag is the presence of any large changes from the next to Last Will to the final Last Will, with no known reason for the change having been made. This may be a result of changes to mental capacity or undue influence of a third party. An experienced estate planning attorney is the best resource to create a Last Will. They will be among the first to ask why significant changes from a prior Last Will are being requested. Don’t allow mistakes to jeopardize your wishes and lead to an invalid will. If you would like to learn more about drafting a will, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The National Law Journal (March 30, 2022) “Red Flags Indicating a Potentially Invalid Will”

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Why You should review Estate Planning

Why You should review Estate Planning

There is a line from John Lennon that states, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” This is especially true when reviewing your estate planning. Maybe your estate plan was created when you were single, and there have been some significant changes in your life. Perhaps you got married or divorced. You also may now be on better terms with children with whom you were once estranged. This is why you should periodically review your estate planning to ensure they are accurate and up-to-date.

Tax and estate laws can also change over time, requiring further updates to your planning documents.

WMUR’s recent article entitled “The ‘final’ estate-planning step” reminds us that change is a constant thing. With that in mind, here are some key indicators that a review is in order.

  • The value of your estate has changed dramatically
  • You or your spouse changed jobs
  • Changes to your income level or income needs
  • You are retiring and no longer working
  • There is a divorce or marriage in your family
  • There is a new child or grandchild
  • There is a death in the family
  • You (or a close family member) have become ill or incapacitated
  • Your parents have become dependent on you
  • You have formed, purchased, or sold a business;
  • You make significant financial transactions, such as substantial gifts, borrowing or lending money, or purchasing, leasing, or selling assets or investments
  • You have moved
  • You have purchased a vacation home or other property in another state
  • A designated trustee, executor, or guardian dies or changes his or her mind about serving; and
  • You are making changes in your insurance coverage.

Your should review your estate planning after every major change of life. Sit down with your estate planning attorney and take the time to review your planning. If you would like to read more about making changes to your estate planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: WMUR (Feb. 3, 2022) “The ‘final’ estate-planning step”

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When should You Consult an Elder Law Attorney?

When should You Consult an Elder Law Attorney?

Elder law attorneys assist seniors or their family caregivers with legal issues and planning that related to the aging process. These attorneys frequently help with tax planning, disability planning, probate and administration of an estate, nursing home placement and many other legal issues. When should you consult an elder law attorney?

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Hiring an Elder Law Attorney,” explains that elder law attorneys are specialists who work with seniors or caregivers of aging family members on legal matters that older adults face as they age. Many specialize in Medicaid planning to help protect a person’s financial assets, when they have Alzheimer’s disease or another debilitating illness that may require long-term care. They can also usually draft estate documents, including a durable power of attorney for health and medical needs, and even a trust for an adult child with special needs.

As you get older, there are legal issues you, your spouse or your family caregivers face. These issues can also change. For instance, you should have powers of attorney for financial and health needs, in case you or your spouse become incapacitated. You might also need an elder law attorney to help transfer assets, if you or your spouse move into a nursing home to avoid spending your life savings on long-term care.

Elder law attorneys can help with a long list of legal matters seniors frequently face, including the following:

  • Preservation and transfer of assets
  • Accessing health care in a nursing home or other managed care environment and long-term care placements
  • Estate and disability planning
  • Medicare, Social Security and disability claims and appeals
  • Supplemental insurance and long-term health insurance claims and appeals
  • Elder abuse and fraud recovery
  • Conservatorships and guardianships
  • Housing discrimination and home equity conversions
  • Health and mental health law.

The matters listed above are all issues that should motivate you to consult an elder law attorney. Certified Elder Law attorney Melissa Donovan at Texas Trust Law can help! If you would like to learn more about elder law, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 4, 2021) “Hiring an Elder Law Attorney”

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Small business owners need estate planning

Small Business Owners need Estate Planning

Small business owners need estate planning. Not having an estate plan can place business owners and entrepreneurs in jeopardy because they may face difficulties in keeping the business running, if they have to withdraw from the business at any point in time.

Legal Reader’s recent article entitled “What Small Business Owners Should Know about Doing Estate Planning” explains that estate planning is necessary to ensure business continuity. Think about who can take control when you’re no longer around to have the business continue according to your wishes contained in your estate plan. An experienced attorney can help create a comprehensive estate plan, so things do not become chaotic for their family in the event of premature death or any permanent disability. Consider these steps when it comes to good estate planning for business owners.

Create an estate plan if you haven’t got one. A will is designed to detail your wishes about how you want the business to run and the manner of sharing your property at your death. A power of attorney allows an entrusted individual to undertake your business transactions and manage your finances, if you are incapacitated by injury or illness. A healthcare directive permits a trusted agent to make medical decisions on your behalf when you can’t do so yourself.

Plan for taxes. Tax planning is a major component of estate planning. Our tax laws keep changing frequently, so you have to stay in constant touch with your attorney to develop strategies for decreasing your tax liability, as well as creating a strategy for minimizing inheritance/estate taxes.

Buy life and disability insurance. Small business owners should think about purchasing life insurance, so their families can have a source of income after their death.

Create a succession plan. In addition to estate planning, a business owner should have a succession plan that specifies exactly how your company, and your family will prepare for a transition of ownership. The purpose of a well thought out succession plan is to keep the business operating or to take steps to sell it. This plan also includes the organizational structure of the business in case of maintaining business continuity.

Small business owners need to consider their employees as well as their family when drafting their estate planning. You should keep everyone impacted by your decisions apprised of your estate plan and your business succession plan. If you would like to learn more about estate planning for business owners, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Legal Reader (Aug. 26, 2021) “What Small Business Owners Should Know about Doing Estate Planning”

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What are the early signs of dementia?

What are the Early Signs of Dementia?

Many adult children are finally seeing their parents in person for the first time since the beginning of the COVID crisis. While it is a comfort to spend time together, you might notice changes in a parent’s behavior that was not apparent on the phone or Zoom. Could this be a sign of cognitive decline? What are the early signs of dementia?

Dementia can diminish focus, the ability to pay attention, language skills, problem-solving and visual perception. It can make it hard for a senior to control his or her emotions and lead to personality changes, says AARP’s recent article entitled “7 Early Warning Signs of Dementia You Shouldn’t Ignore.”

The article provides some of the warning signs identified by dementia experts and mental health organizations:

  • Difficulty with everyday tasks. Those with dementia may find it increasingly tough to do things, like keep track of monthly bills or follow a recipe while cooking. They also may find it hard to concentrate on tasks, take much longer to do them, or have difficulty completing them.
  • Repetition. Asking a question, hearing the answer, then repeating the same question a few minutes later, or telling the same story about a recent event multiple times, are causes for concern.
  • Communication issues. See if a senior has trouble joining in conversations or following along with them, stops abruptly in the middle of a thought, or struggles to think of words or the name of objects.
  • Getting lost. Those with dementia may have difficulty with visual and spatial abilities.
  • Changes in personality. A senior who starts acting unusually anxious, confused, fearful or suspicious; becomes upset easily; or loses interest in activities and appears depressed is cause for concern.
  • Confusion about time and place. Those who forget where they are or can’t remember how they got there should raise a red flag. You should also be concerned if a person becomes disoriented about time (asking on a Friday if it is Monday or Tuesday).
  • Troubling behavior. If a senior appears to have greater poor judgment when handling money or neglects grooming and cleanliness, it’s a concern.

Here are some of the methods that doctors use to diagnose early signs of dementia:

  • Cognitive and neuropsychological tests assess language and math skills, memory, problem-solving and other kinds of mental functioning.
  • Lab tests can help rule out non-dementia causes for the symptoms.
  • Brain scans like a CT, MRI, or PET imaging can detect changes in brain structure and function. They can identify strokes, tumors and other problems that can cause dementia.
  • Psychiatric evaluation can determine if a mental health condition is causing or impacting symptoms.
  • Genetic tests are critical, especially if someone is showing symptoms before age 60. The early onset form of Alzheimer’s is strongly associated with a person’s genes.

Stay aware of these early signs of dementia and make a plan for addressing your parent’s needs as they decline. Work with an Elder Law attorney to learn what you can do to ensure your loved ones are cared for in their later years.

If you would like to learn more about dementia and other cognitive issues, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: AARP (May 4, 2021) “7 Early Warning Signs of Dementia You Shouldn’t Ignore”

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Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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