• Estate Planning

    Regardless of wealth or assets, proper estate planning allows you to provide for and protect your loved ones after you pass. Your assets are preserved for your beneficiaries, and your estate is distributed according to your plan. An estate plan also lets you communicate your wishes to friends and family should you become incapacitated.

    Seeing the need for estate planning is what propelled me into a law career after 20 years in business administration. I want to help provide a secure future for you and your loved ones. Although no one likes to prepare for their death or disability, it’s my goal to make the process as positive and easy as possible. Your family will be grateful that you took the time to plan for their future.

    We have many estate planning tools available to meet the unique needs of each client. You may want to include wills, trusts and gifting programs. Plans can be quite simple or very complex and I work with you to identify the plan that best suits your estate, family situation and desires.

Learn About the Services We Offer

Wills

Have you ever heard, “Live each day as if it’s your last?” Having a will gives you the peace of mind that if today is your last day, you’re prepared. A will puts distribution of your assets in your hands instead of the state statutes, and ensures that your property and other belongings will go to the people of your choosing.  Wills can be as simple or as detailed as you desire and the situation demands.

Your will designates an executor which is the person who manages the details of your estate.  They are responsible for gathering your property, identifying and paying your debts and then distributing the remaining property according to directions from your will.

You can distribute your property directly to the intended recipient or have it held in a trust.  This provides a great deal of flexibility when planning for your loved ones, charities or any other beneficiary. For some families a trust is the best way to protect your assets. One common trust is a minor’s trust which is established for the future care of a minor allowing the caretaker to gain access to the funds for health, education, and support of your child.

If you have minor children, it’s important for you to designate a guardian for them.  You can also identify individuals who should not be appointed as their guardian. By naming a guardian you will minimize the amount of court involvement in the care of your child.

Failure to have a valid Texas will results in a longer more costly process that will reduce the assets available to provide for your loved ones. Furthermore, you may wish to provide for individuals not recognized as family by the State of Texas.  Most importantly, the court will not have any way to carry out your wishes and will be bound by the guidelines of the state. Creating a will speeds the probate process up and can be a relatively quick and straightforward process.

Powers of Attorney

Durable Power of Attorney

A general power of attorney covers a broad scope of decisions, typically regarding financial affairs, for a person who is incapacitated. By planning in advance, you can decide which activities you want the general power of attorney to direct. You can give specific instructions about who you want to have power of attorney for you, and in what circumstances or situations.

Medical Power of Attorney

If you become incapacitated, you want to make sure that the person making your medical decisions is someone who knows your wishes and preferences and who will have your best interests at heart. You need to designate someone you trust, and make sure that the legal documents are clear and precise.

Guardianship

Guardianship takes care-giving to a new level, and it provides protection for the well-being and assets of a loved one. If not designated in advance of the need, a court will appoint someone to have legal responsibility over the care and management of a person or the estate of an individual who cannot act for himself. Such a designation may include finances, food, clothing and shelter, and may be for a child, a special needs adult, or an elderly person.

Preventative estate planning may include a Declaration of Guardian document that allows you to choose the person you want to have this responsibility, if you become unable to care for yourself or make your own decisions. By making this choice in advance, you can help avoid disputes within your family and costly guardianship proceedings in court.

Living Wills

Making your wishes known about end of life choices need to be in writing in the event you aren’t able to express yourself. Commonly referred to as a living will, in Texas this document is called a Directive to Physician.

A person can be designated to make decisions consistent with this document. It’s primary difference from a medical power of attorney; it’s only effective if you have a terminal or irreversible condition.

Trusts

Think of a trust as a set-aside for a specific purpose. You may want to establish funds for the future care of a disabled child or the education of a child or grandchild. Trusts can also be used to support your favorite charity or assist with Medicaid eligibility. Establishing a trust for blended families can prevent family conflict. Here are a few trusts that can fit into your broader financial or estate planning goals:

  • Special needs trust
  • Irrevocable trust
  • Revocable trust
  • Testamentary trust
  • Charitable trust
  • Education trust
  • Pet Trust

Probate

Probate is the legal process that allows your property and possessions to be passed on to your heirs.  If there is a will with a designated executor and specific instructions, then probate can be relatively quick and straightforward.  It is simply the legal formality needed for asset transfer to beneficiaries. In many cases this is handled with one court appearance.

However, when a person passes without a will, the probate process will become more complicated and can take much longer to complete. Family and friends may wait months or years to receive their inheritance. The size and nature of the estate will determine what type of proceedings will be necessary, but there may need to be a determination of heirship proceeding or muniment of title proceeding. When facing any probate situation, you want an attorney to work with you to determine the easiest, most cost effective way to resolve the estate.

Business Planning

Starting and running your own business is part of the classic American dream, but many business owners find there are many aspects to business management that are outside their area of expertise. You may know everything about how to meet the needs of your customers, but you might not know much at all about managing the legal aspects of a company.

As your company expands and business interests change, remember to keep plans and legal documents up to date. A good rule of thumb is to review your business plan and processes with your attorney once a year to make sure everything is still accurate and effective for your business.  Include a review with your estate planning attorney also to ensure your business documents and estate plan do not contradict each other.

All good things come to an end and it’s critical that your business plan includes an exit strategy. When you are ready to retire or move onto your next venture, there are several options to transition out of ownership of your business. Some companies will create a buy-sell agreement, a planned gifting of ownership interests, or a structured buyout.

We work with business owners and entrepreneurs  in conjunction with a business attorney to:

  • Create and update ownership and operating agreements between owners, partners or family members
  • Craft exit strategies that match your retirement and estate planning goals
  • Prepare buy-sell agreements, gifting or transferring ownership interests, and structuring buyouts

Whether you are starting a business, trying to update your corporate legal documents, or planning to sell the company, let the Law Offices of Debbie J. Cunningham PLLC help you.