“Best Attorney in Las Colinas & Coppell 2015” by Living Magazine

Debbie Cunningham was recently selected as “Best Attorney in Las Colinas & Coppell” for 2015 by Living Magazine. Each year, the magazine asks its readers to vote in over 100 categories for the companies they consider the best.

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Plan for Life’s ‘What-Ifs’

Tomorrow image 2In this day and age, we have access to more news, videos, pictures, and tweets than we have hours in the day. Anytime Mother Nature strikes or there is a disaster somewhere in the world, we are instantly updated with the latest information. When tragedy hits, most people tend to think of their loved ones and realize that there are many ‘what-ifs’ in life.

It’s important that you have proper estate planning documents in place to protect your family from life’s many curve balls. The best time to create or update your estate plan is before tragedy strikes. Before scheduling time to talk with an attorney, think about these three things:

1) Identify a means to pay for long-term care

Many of us will need long-term care at some point in our life and unfortunately it can be quite expensive. Long-term care insurance helps provide for the cost of long-term care. It is for people who can’t perform basic daily activities and need someone to help them. Many people don’t feel comfortable relying on family members financially so start planning now to have money available for your long-term care. Click here to read about more long-term planning options.

2) Select a Power of Attorney

There are two types of Power of Attorney: Medical and Durable. A Medical Power of Attorney addresses who should make medical decisions if you are unable to make them for yourself. A Durable Power of Attorney addresses financial decisions. Either one can be customized to fit the needs of your situation. Click here to read more about the different types of Power of Attorney.

3) Declare Your Guardian

You may think that guardianship is only for children. They are the classic example of someone who needs a guardian, but this is not the only situation. If you are not able to care for yourself as an adult, then you will need a guardian. If you want to ensure your potential guardian is the person of your choosing then you need to prepare a Declaration of Guardian in advance. Click here to read more about planning for incapacity.

Five Common Estate Planning Questions

Most people know that in order to protect your loved ones in the future, you have to start planning now. Saving money for your child’s education, purchasing life insurance, and investing in the stock market are some of the first things that come to mind, but what about creating an estate plan? One of the reasons people postpone this is because they don’t fully understand the estate planning process. Below are five answers to the most common questions about estate planning to help prepare you for the future.

Living Wills-Modern Family#1: Do I need an attorney to create a Will?

Technically, you do not need an attorney to create a Will, but I don’t recommend doing it without one. There are many variables and unique situations that play into an individual’s estate plan, and a generic document may not cover those.

#2: How can I prevent family drama after I pass away?

It’s very likely that each family member will have different views on what to do with your belongings. The best way to avoid family feuds is by designating where your money and sentimental things will go when you pass away. Including detailed instructions in your Will should eliminate some of the drama.

#3: What is a Power of Attorney?

This is one of the most powerful estate planning tools because it gives the person of your choice decision-making power on your behalf. This person has the ability to make financial and medical decisions for you in the event that you become incapacitated.

#4: When should I make updates to my estate plan?

You should review your documents every 3-5 years or after any major life change. A few major life changes include such things as a birth, death, divorce, disability and significant changes in net worth.

#5: Does everyone need a Trust?

In Texas, a Trust is not necessary for everyone however there are several reasons to consider a trust. Some include tax planning, owning property out of state, special needs or disabled family members, and planning for blended families and same sex couples.

Estate Planning for Newlyweds

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes… an estate plan?   Once the ink on the marriage license is dry, newlyweds should apply the same degree of planning as they did on their special day to the protection of their future.

Many young couples put off creating or updating their estate plan because they feel it is unnecessary and costly, but it’s important to include your spouse in several legal documents so the two of you can be protected in the future.

Below is a check list to make sure you have reviewed the following documents in your estate plan.

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Get Organized this Summer

As June rolls around and we reach the halfway point of the year, many of us are realizing that we never followed through on our New Year’s resolutions to be better organized.  But it’s not too late! Take advantage of that week the kids are at camp or a long weekend during the dog days of summer to delve into the mess. You won’t regret it, because, as we all know, the most successful people are the most organized people. Follow these six steps to get organized this summer:

1. Create a Filing System

03A26118It is easy to just shove important papers into the oblivion that is your file cabinet. Take a little time to label folders and file away important documents.

2. Establish a Calendar

The best way to organize time is to be able to prioritize tasks and manage your time. Remember to leave some wiggle room for unexpected delays or emergencies.

3. Set a Budget

Organizing finances is crucial to reaching your monetary goals for the year. Use budget programs such as Mint or BudgetPulse to help cut down unnecessary spending and achieve saving goals.

4. Plan to Achieve

Person-writing-in-notebookWrite down your short-term and long-term goals for the year and devise a plan to achieve them. Include milestones so that you can track your progress.

5. Eliminate the Clutter

Throw out and donate old clothes, knick-knacks, and other items that you haven’t used in the last year. This will give better access to the things you regularly use.

6. Update Legal Documents

If you have experienced a major life change in the past year, such as the purchase of a new home or the birth of a child, you will need to update your will and trust documents. If you don’t have a will or trust, now is the perfect time to get that in place.

 

How to Protect Your Digital Assets

For most of us, updating our social media, sending emails, and checking our bank accounts online has become second nature and is a daily part of our life. But what happens to all of your accounts if you suddenly pass away? You have a lifetime’s worth of online files and accounts that may become inaccessible which causes more stress for your loved ones. Luckily, there is a way to protect all of these digital assets by including them in your estate plan.  One option is to appoint someone as your online executor who becomes responsible for all of your online content such as your email addresses, Facebook, Twitter and blogs.  Before including your digital assets in your estate plan, there are a couple of steps that need to be taken.

Step 1—Start with an Inventory List

Create an inventory list with all of your relevant files and accounts including passwords in one document. This can be a paper document that is stored with all of your other important documents or in a safe deposit box. Debbie has created a blank inventory list that you can download and use to list your digital assets.

Click here to download the form.

Step 2—Grant Someone You Trust Access

Make sure you specify who will have authorization to access your accounts because the Stored Communications Act of 1986 bars Internet service providers from disclosing personal records to individuals unless the owner of those records grants authorization.

Step 3—Know the Terms of Service

Most people do not take the time to read the terms of service when creating any social media account or installing new software but it’s important that you are aware of and understand the terms of use. Some companies may restrict sharing and transferring of media which can create challenges for digital asset planning.

Once you have taken the time to review all of your digital assets schedule time with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure you have taken the proper steps to include your digital assets in your estate plan.


 

Misconceptions About Probate in Texas

The cost of probate will eat up all of the estate assets.  Many estates don’t require probate proceedings. Not all assets owned in the deceased person’s name must go through probate. And if the value of those “probate assets” is small enough, the family can take advantage of probate shortcuts, which is less expensive.

The oldest child is entitled to be the executor of their parent’s estate.  Just because they were always the one in charge doesn’t mean they are automatically the executor. Parents can name anyone as the executor–even the often overlooked middle child.

 

Four Important Questions About Probate

When facing the loss of a loved one, the last thing people want to do is take time to learn about the law. Unfortunately, those left behind oftentimes are faced with this reality. These four questions will help you understand where to find important information and help you focus on the issues at hand.

What Country, State or County Did They Live in?

USProbate law is state specific so in most cases the primary residence will control what law applies. That being said, you will need an attorney with knowledge of the specific state laws where your loved one lived.

In Texas, you will not only want to find an attorney that is experienced with state laws, but also familiar with the county where the person lived. While the law will be the same statewide, the procedures may vary somewhat from county to county. So, beginning in the county where the person lived will give you not only the most accurate state advice, but also the likely local procedures.

Is there a Will?

In most states, the procedures available to manage a person’s affairs depend on whether or not the person left a Will. Determining if a Will exists will help reduce the information overload when you begin your quest for information. It will allow you to focus only on those procedures that apply to your situation.

Are Those Left Behind Getting Along?

family_logoAnother key ingredient to how this situation will likely progress is how well those left behind are getting along. If there is a great deal of arguments within the family or different family groups, the process may include one or more legal challenges. Discussing this with an attorney in the beginning will provide you with the most realistic expectation for the process.

Is There an Emergency?

If there is an emergency related to burial, gaining access to the Will or estate assets, be sure and raise these concerns early in the conversation with your attorney. This will ensure you and your prospective attorney are in the best situation to address these needs in a timely manner.

Tax Season and Your Estate Plan

It’s time to dig out all of your receipts and pay stubs from last year—that’s right it’s tax season! While you are reviewing your finances, it’s also the perfect time to make sure your estate plan is up to date. If you have recently gotten married, had a child, acquired new assets, or experienced any major life event not only should that be reflected in your taxes but it should also be added to your estate plan. Proper tax and estate planning go hand-in-hand so now is the best time to get both in order. If you have recently experienced any of the following, make sure you schedule an appointment with an experienced attorney to make sure your estate planning documents are updated.

Large Assets

02G69561If you had a big purchase this year and acquired an asset of large value (such as a home) you may need to modify your estate planning documents. Leaving big assets out of your estate plan can create conflict and ambiguity after your passing. Your existing will or trust may already include language to address future purchases like a new home.  If not, adding a home to an already existing will or trust is simple. An experienced attorney will be able to walk you through the process quickly.

Marriage and Divorce

If you had a shift in your tax filing status due to a marriage or divorce, then there are likely some adjustments you will need to make in your estate plan. You don’t want your new spouse to be excluded or your former spouse included when it is time to divide the assets. This is also a great opportunity for you and your new spouse to discuss important end of life care and power of attorney concerns.

New Baby

If you welcomed a bundle of joy into your family this year, you get to enjoy some great tax credits and deductions. This is also a great occasion to ensure your estate plan provides for your growing family. Adding your children to your will or trust is crucial to ensuring their needs are taken care of if you were to unexpectedly pass away. If you do not have an existing will or trust in place, now is the time to act so you can protect your son or daughter.

What Will You Get For Valentine’s Day?

While roses, chocolate, and a romantic dinner may be the traditional Valentines fare; those admirations of love are fleeting and temporary. If you want to give your loved one a lasting (and useful) gift this year, consider properly planning for your future together. Give a gift that matters by making sure your loved one is protected with proper estate planning.

Closeup of happy couple at homeWhat is a Will?

A will gives specific instructions on how to distribute your estate after you have passed away. With a will, your property would be divided according to your wishes, not placed in the hands of strangers.

Why is a Will Important?

Without a will the state statutes, instead of your wishes, will determine how your estate will be divided. This could mean a long, stressful, and expensive struggle for your family. With proper estate planning your distribution plan can consider tax implications, differing needs of each family member or anything of importance to you. This means more money going to your loved ones.

When is the Best Time to Create a Will?

Most people believe that estate planning is only for the more mature crowd. This is a common misconception. If you have children, are married or in a committed relationship, now is the perfect time to protect your family with a solid estate plan.

What Else is Included in an Estate Plan?

When you sit down to speak with an experienced attorney about a will, there will be several other important documents that are included with proper estate planning:

  • Medical Power of Attorney- This allows a loved one to make medical decisions for you when you are not able.
  • Directive to Physicians- Also called a ‘Living Will,’ this gives instructions on life sustaining care and other end of life decisions.
  • General Power of Attorney- This gives permission to the person of your choosing to handle your finances if you are incapacitated.

hands in form of heartNothing says, “I love you” quite like ensuring that your loved one is properly protected. Along with a dozen roses this Valentine’s Day, consider sitting down with your significant other and speaking about these important decisions. If you need assistance in navigating the estate planning process, contact an attorney today.

An Organized New Year in Six Steps

New Years is all about starting fresh and new. Along with getting in shape, getting organized tops the list of popular resolutions. The most successful people are the most organized people. Being organized leads to greater work efficiency and has been shown to even improve your health. The daunting task of organizing your life can seem a tad overwhelming. When given a large task, it is always best to break it down into small steps. Here are few simple measures you can take to get a jump-start on a more organized year.

1. Create a Filing System

It is easy to just shove important papers into the oblivion that is your file cabinet. Take a little time to label folders and divide up important papers.

2. Establish a Calendar

The best way to organize time is to be able to prioritize tasks and manage your time. Remember to leave some wiggle room for unexpected delays or emergencies.

3. Set a Budget

Organizing finances is crucial to reaching your monetary goals for the year. Use budget programs such as Mint or BudgetPulse to help cut down unnecessary spending and achieve saving goals.

4. Plan to Achieve

Write down your short term and long-term goals for the year and research how to achieve them. Include milestones so that you can track your progress throughout the year.

5. Cut Out the Clutter

Everything should have its place. Get rid of old clothes, knick-knacks, or other items that you haven’t used in the last year. This will give better access to the things you regularly use.

6. Update Legal Documents

If you had a big life change during the past year such as the purchasing a home or the birth of a child, you will need to update your will or trust documents. If you don’t have a will or trust, the new year is the perfect time to get that in place.

 

Following these six steps will have you on your way to a more successful and organized year. Remember, keeping organized is all about consistency. Check in with yourself a once a month to make sure you are following this checklist to keep on track. We wish you and your family a very happy (and organized) start to the year.

What the Holidays Mean to Me

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What the Holidays Mean to Me

In years past, holidays brought only the joy of the season and thoughts of time with family. Now as a business owner, the holidays remind me it is time to review this year’s accomplishments and begin planning for the new year. This December, I thought I would share both viewpoints with you.

My husband and I have a blended family with six children. All six are married or in committed relationships and some have children of their own. I look forward to the joy of grandchildren at Christmas and our joy as parents at the prospect of having most of our children together for the holiday.

As I look back over this year, I am reminded of the great clients it has been my pleasure to work for this year. The year saw the return of previous clients bringing new business. Additionally, I have been honored to receive many client referrals and that is the greatest compliment any service provider can receive.

I hope your holiday brings you the joy of family and friends!

 

Debbie’s Charitable Contributions for 2014

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Debbie’s Community Involvement

Speaking Engagements:

  • Altrusa International of Garland
  • Lake Cities Mothers of Multiples
  • Denison Rotary Club
  • Plaid for Women NE Tarrant County
  • Dallas Baptist University Pre-Law Society

Presentations:

 

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Long-Term Planning Starts Now

Most people know they need a long-term care plan but often times do not plan for it until something drastic happens. The best way to be prepared for your future is to begin planning now. Here are four ways to cover long-term care costs:

Long-Term Planning Starts Now1. Life Insurance or Annuities

One way to plan for long-term care is to purchase a life insurance policy or a Medicaid qualifying annuity. The policy holder pays a premium which eventually builds up a lump sum to help cover nursing home or at-home care. The money that’s not spent gets passed to heirs as a life insurance death benefit.

2. Long-Term Care Insurance

This insurance product helps provide for the cost of long-term care. Long-term care insurance is for people who can’t perform basic daily activities and need someone to help them. Many people don’t feel comfortable relying on family members financially so start planning now to have money available for your long-term care.

3. Medicaid

Medicaid covers long-term care costs for people whose income and assets fall below a certain level. It can only be used when you have no other financial resources to cover the cost of your care and your options may be limited by the programs that are available to Medicaid patients. It’s a good idea to save as much money as possible in your younger years so you’re not fully dependent on Medicaid to help you in your later years.

4. Personal Savings and Investments

Some people will be able to use their own assets for long-term care by calculating an amount of money to set aside to pay for their care, or by savvy investment plans over the years. Just make sure you understand the Medicaid guidelines that might affect your spouse and other family members.

Each option has its advantages and disadvantages and can be very complicated to understand. Make sure you talk to an attorney, insurance agent, and financial advisor to discuss what long-term care plan works best for you and your family.