Category: Trust Administration

A Subtrust is a Multi-Tool that serves various Purposes

A Subtrust is a Multi-Tool that serves various Purposes

A subtrust is a separate entity created under the umbrella of a primary trust or a will. A subtrust becomes active based on the terms of the trust or will when certain events happen, such as the death of the primary grantor, or creator. Subtrusts are used by estate planning attorneys to help families pass on inheritances and protect their heirs from creditors or issues such as lawsuits or divorce. A Subtrust is a multi-tool that serves various purposes, depending on the beneficiaries’ specific needs and the grantor’s goals.

A subtrust is created as part of a primary trust, often a revocable trust. The primary trust acts as a container for your assets, answering critical questions about who gets them, what they receive, when and how. The subtrust, on the other hand, is like a specialized compartment within this container, designed for specific purposes or beneficiaries. Subtrusts remain dormant within the primary trust until a triggering event, typically the death of the grantor. Upon this event, the subtrust becomes active and, in most cases, irrevocable. This means that the terms of the subtrust cannot be changed.

The activation of a subtrust initiates a process known as trust administration. This process involves naming the subtrust, obtaining a tax ID and setting up a bank account. In addition, an appointed trustee will need to manage the trust assets, including making distributions to beneficiaries, filing tax returns and ensuring that the trust operates according to the trust provisions and the grantor’s intentions.

How Do Subtrusts Work If Created Under a Will?

Subtrusts can also be effectively created under a will, offering a flexible approach to estate planning. The will itself can directly establish these trusts or designate a revocable trust as the beneficiary in what is known as a “pour-over” will. This method ensures that the assets are transferred into the trust upon the grantor’s death.

How are Subtrusts Different from Revocable Trusts?

Subtrusts offer enhanced protection for your assets and beneficiaries. Unlike a revocable trust, which can be altered during the grantor’s lifetime, a subtrust becomes irrevocable upon activation, providing a firmer legal structure. This irrevocability protects the assets from the beneficiary’s creditors and in cases of legal challenges, such as divorce or lawsuits.

What are Subtrusts Commonly Used for?

Subtrusts serve various purposes, depending on the beneficiaries’ specific needs and the trustor’s goals. They can be used to protect beneficiaries who are minors, financially irresponsible, or have special needs. Subtrusts can also safeguard assets from beneficiaries’ creditors, ensuring that the inheritance is used as intended by the grantor.

Subtrusts have many different names and types, each serving a unique purpose in estate planning, as outlined in an article by the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys titled Basics of Estate Planning: Trusts and Subtrusts.

How Do Subtrusts Avoid Probate?

A Subtrust is a multi-tool that serves various purposes, but one of the primary reasons is to avoid the lengthy and often costly process of probate. Having assets in a subtrust bypasses the court-supervised distribution process, making things smooth, quick and easy for your family and heirs after your death.

Subtrusts provide a layer of protection for beneficiaries against their creditors or their own irresponsibility. This is particularly important in cases where a beneficiary may face financial difficulties, divorce, legal disputes, or even car accidents. The subtrust provides a shield for the assets to protect them from external claims. If you would like to learn more about trusts, please visit our previous posts. 

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Avoid a Tax Nightmare with your Trust

Avoid a Tax Nightmare with your Trust

The other message is to be certain that the person serving as a trustee has the knowledge to administer the trust properly or the wisdom to retain an experienced estate planning attorney who will know how to administer a trust. Avoid a tax nightmare with your trust with the correct forms. Not every CPA has detailed knowledge about trust taxation, reports the recent article, Trust’s Incorrect Tax Form Forfeited large Tax Refund Claim: A Lesson For Trustees,” from Forbes.

For income tax purposes, there are several types of trusts. “Grantor trusts” are those whose income is taxed to the person, the settlor, who created the trust. The trust at issue was a grantor trust. However, when the taxpayer who created the trust died, the trust became a non-grantor trust. These are also called “complex” trusts. The income is not reported by the person creating the trust. Complex trusts usually pay their own income taxes. The beneficiaries receiving distributions then report the income for tax purposes included in the income received from the trust. This is referred to as the trust’s Distributable Net Income or “DNI.”

In this case, the trust is the remainder trust after the termination of a Qualified Personal Residence Trust or “QPRT.” This is a trust used to transfer a valuable house from the taxpayer’s estate to descendants or to a trust for them at a discount from the trust’s current value.

The trust had income to report for income tax purposes, which will be done on Form 1041, U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts. The trust felt it was entitled to a refund of some of the taxes it paid, so it filed for a refund. Refund claims are supposed to be filed by amending the trust income tax return, but the trust filed Form 843, a form to claim a refund. The wrong form led the Court to determine that the trust failed to take appropriate action, and the refund was lost. The trust’s filing did put the IRS on notice that the claim was the wrong action.

The IRS said the taxpayer’s filing of Form 843 was insufficient as a formal claim because an amended Form 1041 is the proper form. The Court found that the IRS is authorized to demand information in a particular form and to insist that the form is observed. The instructions on Form 853 advise that the form is for a refund of taxes other than income tax, while the instructions on Form 1041 indicate that it must be used to claim a refund.

What happened in this case? Someone managing the trust didn’t know enough about trust taxation. The family may not have had regular meetings with their estate and trust attorney who created the trust. The deceased taxpayer in this case was a judge, and the trustee was the son of the judge. The taxpayer died in 2015, and the house was sold for $1.8 million the next year. The IRS demanded $930,127 in taxes, penalties, and interest from the Trust. The Trust paid that amount assessed on September 24, 2021. The court opinion was handed down on August 7, 2023. The amount of costs in accounting and legal fees must have been enormous.

This is an excellent example of why families need to have regular, ongoing meetings with their estate planning attorneys and tax advisors to be sure everyone is on the same page. Annual reviews and an estate planning attorney focusing on trust taxation could avoid a tax nightmare with your trust. It would have saved this family money, time, and the stress of an unresolved IRS issue. If you would like to learn more about taxation in estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (Aug. 19, 2023) Trust’s Incorrect Tax Form Forfeited large Tax Refund Claim: A Lesson For Trustees”

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Pour-Over Will can be Extremely Valuable in your Estate Plan

Pour-Over Will can be Extremely Valuable in your Estate Plan

The pour-over will can be extremely valuable in completing your estate plan. You may have come across the term “pour-over” will in a conversation with an estate planning attorney, especially as it relates to revocable living trusts. When written alongside a revocable living trust, a pour-over will ensures that certain unallocated assets will be, in the end, accounted for, according to a recent article, “4 Concepts You May Be Getting Wrong About Pour-Over Wills” from The Street.

Assets not already transferred to a trust during your life will be transferred or “poured over” into the trust after going through probate after your death.

Probate is the court-supervised legal process used to verify your will and appoint an executor to handle estate affairs.

The goal of the pour-over will is to provide a safety net for any imperfections or oversights during the estate planning process. They are popular for this reason. However, they are also poorly understood and often incorrectly used. Here are four key misconceptions and mistakes to be aware of.

Pour-over wills are unnecessary if you have a revocable living trust. Not true. Many people make the mistake of thinking they don’t need a pour-over will because of their revocable living trust. However, this is wrong. Very few people are as diligent about updating their trusts as they need to be and often die without finalizing the transfer of all assets into their trust. People also simply forget to make transfers. The pour-over will solves this problem.

The executor doesn’t matter because I’m going to fully fund my revocable living trust. Wrong again!  Life often gets in the way of the best of intentions. For example, if you have a large digital asset, like crypto, and completely forget to transfer it into your trust, your executor will be in charge of it. As an aside, you’ll want your executor to be someone knowledgeable about crypto and finances.

I have a living trust and pour-over will. I’m done with estate planning. This would be like saying you had your car washed and won’t ever have to wash it again. The pour-over will takes assets left in your name and moves them into your trust after your passing. The pour-over is a safety net. However, it’s still got to be kept current. Estate planning attorneys recommend a review of your plan every three to five years or whenever there’s a trigger event, like death, divorce, or remarriage. A trust-based estate plan needs to be reviewed every time a new asset is acquired.

There’s no need to do anything in the event the living trust hasn’t been set up when I pass because of the pour-over will. Wait, what? Not true. It’s always possible the disposition of assets into the trust could be invalid or inoperative. To be sure, name the same beneficiaries as presently provided in the trust agreement as contingent beneficiaries in your pour-over will. This will ensure that your objectives are realized, even if somehow a defect in the trust instrument invalidates the intended transfer.

The pour-over will can be extremely valuable in completing your estate plan. However, it still requires reviewing every three to five years to avoid any problems. Talk with your estate planning attorney to see how this can work to strengthen the rest of your estate plan. If you would like to read more about trusts, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Street (June 14, 2023) “4 Concepts You May Be Getting Wrong About Pour-Over Wills”

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You Need to File an Estate Tax Return

You Need to File an Estate Tax Return

Even if your spouse has died and left all their assets to you and no estate tax is due, you still need to file an estate tax return. Doing so may save your family significant sums in estate taxes after your death, according to a recent article from Forbes, “5 Reasons You Must File An Estate Tax Return (Even When No Tax Is Due).”

The estate tax is a one-time tax due nine months after the date of death. The federal threshold in 2023 is $12,920,000 for an individual. Many states have their own estate taxes, with thresholds ranging from $1 million in Oregon and Massachusetts to $12,920,000 in Connecticut. Your estate planning attorney can advise which assets are included in calculating this amount. For example, many people are surprised to learn that proceeds from their life insurance policies are taxable on their death, unless the policy is owned in an irrevocable trust.

No estate tax is due if your assets are left to your surviving spouse because of the unlimited marital deduction. You get an unlimited deduction for the assets left to your spouse. Spouses can leave any amount to their surviving spouse tax-free, whether $2 or $2 million. However, there are reasons to file an estate tax return. The law requires it, even if the value of your estate assets is below the filing threshold.

If you’ve done estate planning, your spouse most likely has a trust that will break into various sub-trusts upon her death. As the surviving spouse, you’ll need to fund those trusts and apportion assets to them, which is done through the estate tax return. The estate tax return establishes the value of what those trusts are funded with.

Critical tax elections. When you file an estate tax return for your spouse, you’ll make certain elections to determine what assets are included in your estate when you die.

Tax savings for heirs. If your spouse has not used up all their $12,920,000 exemption, you can lock in their unused portion and port it to your estate tax return when you die. The portability of the deceased spouse’s unused exemption could potentially save your children millions of dollars in estate taxes in the future.

The combined exemption for two spouses is currently $25,840,000. The federal estate tax rate can be as high as 40%. By locking in the unused exemption, you could save more than $5 million in estate taxes that would otherwise be due on your death. Even if your assets are not in the $12 million to $25 million range, this is still smart because your assets could increase in value, and the estate tax thresholds are scheduled to drop to $5 million in 2026 (adjusted for inflation).

More tax savings for grandchildren. If your spouse has yet to use all of their general-skipping transfer tax (GST Tax) exemption, you can lock in their remaining GST Tax exemption. The GST Tax is a 40% tax on assets, if you “skip” your children and leave them directly to your grandchildren or in a trust that will eventually be distributed to them. The amount of GST Tax exemption is the same as the estate tax exemption, $12,920,000 per person in 2023. Therefore, the amount is the same, but they are different taxes.

You need to file an estate tax return to ensure that you have complied with tax law. Work with an estate planning attorney who has experience handling probate and trust administration. If you would like to learn more about the estate tax, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (May 10, 2023) “5 Reasons You Must File An Estate Tax Return (Even When No Tax Is Due)”

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Managing Debt after Death can be a Challenge for Heirs

Managing Debt after Death can be a Challenge for Heirs

Part of estate planning is considering how future repayment of debts, both owed to the person and debts they are responsible for, will impact inheritances received by beneficiaries. A recent article from Lake County News, “Estate Planning: Debts and Estate Planning,” explains how the process works. Managing debt after death can be a challenge for heirs.

Assets passing to a beneficiary directly, outside of probate, are not typically subject to paying a decedent’s debts. These are life insurance proceeds, joint tenancy assets, Payable on Death (POD) and Transfer on Death (TOD), to name a few.

The estate plan must consider how much debt exists and how it might be paid. One approach is to purchase life insurance made payable to the trust estate.

A person may specifically gift real property, which would be subject to repaying an outstanding debt, like a mortgage.

If the beneficiary who would otherwise receive the residence takes it subject to repaying the secured debt, other assets in the estate would need to be reduced to pay the debt.

This should be addressed when the estate plan is created and must be expressly documented. If not addressed, the default rule is that any secured debt goes with the gift. It’s not likely to have been the plan. However, this is how the law works.

Third, parents and children may loan money between themselves. This is usually between parent and child.

Such family debts merit attention during estate planning. For example, parents may wish to loan money to a child to pay higher education costs, to buy a home, or to launch a business.

Upon the death of the parent, should any unpaid balance be repaid by the child to the parent’s estate, or should the child’s debt be forgiven? This must also be clearly stated in the will or trust, whatever is relevant.

If the parent wishes the child to pay the unpaid balance, the debt obligation and its payment history must be in writing and updated. The debt may be assigned to the parent’s trust and enforced by the successor trustee.

At death, the unpaid balance would need to be added back into the estate’s value to arrive at the correct gross value necessary to assess each share of the total estate.

The unpaid balance is usually subtracted from the debtor’s share.

Children might also be owed money from a parent. For example, the adult child might provide at-home personal care services to their parent, or money may be lent to help with the parent’s cost of living. The debt and repayment history also needs to be in writing and updated regularly.

Debt must be acknowledged, and the means of repaying the debt must be made clear. Managing debt after death can be a challenge for heirs. An estate planning attorney will help document and build repayment into the estate plan. If you would like to learn more about probate and trust administration, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Lake Country News (April 29, 2023) “Estate Planning: Debts and Estate Planning”

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Revocable Trusts Must Be Funded to be Effective

Revocable Trusts Must Be Funded to be Effective

Revocable assets simplify asset management during life and facilitate private asset transfers at death. Therefore, you might think your estate planning is done when you sign the revocable trust agreement. Nevertheless, it’s not done until you fund the trust, advises a recent article, “’It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over’ – Use of a Funded Revocable Trust in Estate Planning” from The National Law Review. Remember, revocable trusts must be funded to be effective.

A trust is a legal agreement allowing one person—the trustee—to hold and manage property to benefit one or more beneficiaries. The person who creates the trust—the grantor—can create a trust during their lifetime and modify or terminate the agreement at any time. The grantor is the initial trustee and the initial beneficiary. These dual roles allow the grantor to control the trust assets during their lifetime.

Upon death, the revocable trust becomes irrevocable. The trust agreement directs the distribution of assets and appoints the trustee to manage and distribute assets. Unlike a will, the revocable trust works during your lifetime to hold assets.

Funding the trust is critical for it to perform. Assets must be transferred, with an asset-by-asset review conducted to determine which assets should go into the trust. The assets should then be transferred—usually by title or deed changes—which your estate planning attorney can help with.

A funded revocable trust avoids having the assets go through probate. State statutes and regulations require several steps to be completed, adding time, effort and cost to estate administration. Suppose that the revocable trust at death owns the assets. In that case, the trust owns the legal title to the assets, and assets can be distributed to beneficiaries without court intervention.

Avoiding probate also reduces expenses. The expense of probate administration arises from two sources: probate fees and attorney fees. These vary by state and jurisdiction. However, they can add up quickly. A funded revocable trust minimizes both types of fees.

Unlike the will, which becomes a public document once it goes through probate, revocable trust assets and beneficiaries remain confidential, known only to the trustee and beneficiaries. Anyone who wants to can request and review your will and obtain information about assets and beneficiaries. However, the trust is a private document, protecting your loved ones from scammers, overly aggressive salespeople, and nosy relatives.

Privacy can be essential for business owners. For example, suppose you die owning a business interest as an individual. In that case, the description and value of business interests must be reported on the public record during the probate process and is available to potential purchasers to use as leverage against your estate. Transferring business interests to a revocable trust during your lifetime can keep that information private.

Trusts are also used for asset protection for assets with beneficiary designations, including life insurance, IRAs and retirement plans. For instance, if a life insurance policy is paid to your estate, creditors of your estate may have access to the proceeds. If it is paid to the trust, it is protected from creditors. A Revocable trust is only as good as its funding. Revocable trusts must be funded to be effective. If you would like to learn more about RLTs, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The National Law Review (March 3, 2023) “’It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over’ – Use of a Funded Revocable Trust in Estate Planning”

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Some Best Practices for a Trustee to follow

Some Best Practices for a Trustee to follow

Many people find they have been named a trustee and generally have no idea what responsibilities they have, or how to ensure they do not make a huge mistake. There are some best practices for a trustee to follow. Forbes’ recent article entitled “How To Be An Effective Trustee” provides some great best practices for those asked to be a trustee.

  1. Make a team. No one person can have all the necessary skills and experience to be an effective trustee. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney, an investment advisor and a tax accountant knowledgeable about the taxation of trusts. It’s a good practice for the trustee to have regular meetings with the team of advisors, both as a team and individually.
  2. Understand the key trust terms. Understand what the trust document says and what the key terms mean. When you are named as trustee, a best practice is to read the entire trust document and go through the document with an attorney and have them explain the key terms. Some of these key terms may involve the following:
  • Distribution standards
  • Special provisions for investing, particularly direction to sell or not to sell certain assets
  • Provisions the trustee should act upon, like the power to appoint a successor; and
  • Knowing whether the beneficiary’s age will trigger distributions or any other actions.
  1. Work productively with beneficiaries. Dealing with beneficiaries is frequently the most challenging part of being a trustee. There can be differences of opinion over distribution amounts, investment strategy, or other matters relating to the management of the trust which can lead to disagreement. To avoid potential issues with beneficiaries and facilitate a productive relationship, trustees should try to practice following:
  • Communication
  • Transparency
  • Education
  • Clear Distributions; and
  • Providing Required Information.
  1. Documentation is Crucial. Although trustees can’t guarantee perfect results, they must act with care, skill and impartiality. They must have rational reasons for their decisions and documenting them is critical because it substantiates the trustee’s decision-making. Some examples of decisions that should be thoroughly documented include:
  • Distribution Decisions
  • Decisions That Set Investment Policy
  • Initiation or Termination of Investments and Hiring and Firing Investment Managers/Funds
  • Principal and Income Allocations;
  • Verbal Communications with Beneficiaries; And
  • Decisions to Hire Experts or Agents, like an attorney or an accountant.

This is not full list. It is very important to seek out the advice of an estate planning attorney. He or she will help you identify some of the best practices for a trustee to follow. If you would like to learn more about the role of a trustee, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Forbes (May 31, 2022) “How To Be An Effective Trustee”

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How to Manage Investments when Someone Dies

How to Manage Investments when Someone Dies

Taking responsibility for a decedent’s probate or trust estate often involves managing significant amounts of wealth, whether they are brokerage accounts or cash assets. They will need to know how to manage investments when someone dies. Today’s volatile markets add another level of complexity to this responsibility. The article “Estate Planning: Investments during administration of decedent’s estate” from Lake County News explains what estate administrators, executors and trustees need to know as they take on these tasks.

Investment account values are in a constant state of change and may include assets now considered too risky because they are owned by the estate and not the individual. The administrator will need to evaluate the accounts in light of debts owed by the decedent, the costs in administering the estate and any gifts to be made before the estate will be closed.

At the same time, too much cash on hand could mean unproductive assets earning less than they could, losing value to inflation. If there is a long time between the death of the owner and the date of distribution, depending on markets and interest rates, having too much cash could be detrimental to the beneficiaries.

The personal representative or trustee, as relevant, may determine that the cash should be invested, shift how existing investments are managed, or decide to sell investments to generate cash needed for debts, expenses and distributions to beneficiaries.

A personal representative is not expected or required to be a stock market expert. Their duties are to manage estate assets as a person making prudent decisions for the betterment of the estate and heirs. They must put the interest of the estate above their own and not make any speculative investments. With the exception of checking accounts, the expectation is for estate accounts to earn something, even if it is only interest.

If the personal representative has the authority to do so, they may invest in very low-risk debt assets. If the will includes investment powers and if certain conditions safeguarding payment of the decedent’s debts and expenses are satisfied, the personal representatives may invest using those powers. In some instances, a court order may be needed. An estate planning attorney will be able to advise based on the laws of the state in which the decedent resided.

Learning how to manage investments when someone dies is a critical role for a trustee or executor. For a trust, the trustee has a fiduciary duty to invest and manage trust assets for beneficiaries. Assets should be made productive, unless the trust includes specific directions for the use of assets prior to distribution. The longer the trust administration takes and the larger the value of the trust, the more important this becomes.

In all scenarios, investment decisions, including balancing risk and reward, must be made in the context of an overall investment strategy for the benefit of heirs. Investments may be delegated to a professional investment advisor, but the selection of the advisor must be made cautiously. The advisor must be selected prudently and the scope and terms of the selection of the advisor must be consistent with the purposes and terms of the trust. The trustee or executor must personally monitor the advisor’s performance and compliance with the overall strategy. If you would like to learn more about managing investment account in an estate, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Lake County News (June 11, 2022) “Estate Planning: Investments during administration of decedent’s estate”

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Using HEMS language in a Trust

Being named a trustee comes with a lot of responsibilities and can feel overwhelming. There are protocols in place to help called the HEMS standard. The HEMS standard is used to inform trustees as to how and when funds should be released to a beneficiary, according to a recent article from Yahoo! News, “What is the HEMS Standard in Estate Planning.” Using HEMS language in a trust gives the trustee more control over how assets are distributed and spent. If a beneficiary is young and not financial savvy, this becomes extremely important to protecting both the beneficiary and the assets in the trust. Your estate planning attorney can set up a trust to include this feature.

When a trust includes HEMS language, the assets may only be used for specific needs. Health, education or living expenses can include college tuition, mortgage, and rent payments, medical care and health insurance premiums.

Medical treatment may include eye exams, dental care, health insurance, prescription drugs and some elective procedures.

Education may include college housing, tuition, technology needed for college, studying abroad and career training.

Maintenance and Support includes reasonable comforts, like paying for a gym membership, vacations and gifts for family members.

The HEMS language provides guidance for the trustee. However, ultimately the trustee is vested with the discretionary power to decide whether the assets are being used according to the directions of the trust.

Sometimes beneficiary requests are straightforward, like college tuition or health insurance bills. However, maintenance and support need to be considered in the context of the family’s wealth. If the family and the beneficiary are used to a lifestyle that includes three or four luxurious vacations every year, a request for funds used for a ski trip to Spain may not be out of line. For another family and trust, this would be a ludicrous request.

Having HEMS language in the trust limits distribution. It has greater value, if the trustee is also a beneficiary, lessening the chances of the trust diminishing for non-essentials or to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Giving the trustee HEMS language narrows their discretionary authority enough to help them do a better job of managing assets and may limit challenges by beneficiaries.

Using HEMS language in a trust can be as broad or narrow as the grantor wishes. Just as a trust is crafted to meet the specific directions of the grantor for beneficiaries, the HEMS language can be created to establish a trust where the assets may only be used to pay for college tuition or career training.

Reference: Yahoo! News (Jan. 7, 2022) “What is the HEMS Standard in Estate Planning”

 

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The Estate of The Union Season 3|Episode 3

New Episode of The Estate of The Union Podcast!

The new episode of The Estate of The Union podcast is out now. In Episode 5 Brad Wiewel is joined by attorney Ann Lumley, Director of Probate and Estate Administration with Texas Trust Law, to discuss the often confusing and complicated world of Probate. Many people have heard horror stories of contested wills and families struggling for years to probate the estate of a loved one.

Brad and Ann cover the most common mistakes made by families during the probate process and provide the listeners with tips to help avoid some of those pitfalls. They focus special attention on the role of the executor, how to properly name beneficiaries, and how trust administration works.

In each episode of The Estate of The Union podcast, host and lawyer Brad Wiewel will give valuable insight into estate planning, making an often daunting subject easier to understand.

It is Estate Planning Made Simple!

The Estate of The Union can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. Please click on the link below to listen. We hope you enjoy it.

Texas Trust Law focuses its practice exclusively in the area of wills, probate, estate planning, asset protection, and special needs planning. Brad Wiewel is Board Certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. 

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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