Estate Planning FAQs
Q: Why do I need a will?
A: The short answer: yes. Many people think they don’t have anything to leave, but without a will your assets are distributed through the probate process through intestacy laws.
If a person dies intestate, Texas law will determine who your beneficiaries are and how much each will receive. Intestacy law may not align with your last wishes, and usually requires more expensive and complicated probate proceedings. If you have a valid will you can ensure your assets pass according to your wishes.
A will also provides for the administration of your affairs after death. Your executor (the designated agent in your will) is responsible for collecting your assets, paying off debts, and distributing your property to the intended beneficiaries. Texas allows for an independent administration, which is more efficient and less expensive and complicated. It allows for minimum court supervision, as long as the executor is abiding by your will.
Bottom line – having a will is less expensive, less stressful for those you leave behind, and ensures your wishes are respected.
Q: What Is the First Step in the Estate Planning Process?
A: The first step is to schedule an appointment with an estate planning attorney to discuss your estate and needs for your situation. Each family and estate are unique, and there are no cookie cutter answers. An initial estate planning consultation provides an opportunity for your attorney to obtain information about you, your family, your assets, and your goals. At the conclusion of the meeting, the attorney will make recommendations about which estate planning techniques best suit your needs and will advise you of the estimated fees to carry out your unique plan.
Q: What Should I Bring to the Initial Consultation?
A: To prepare for your consultation, you should bring a:
- financial statement;
- list of your major assets;
- list of your major debts;
- completed Hunt Law Firm, PLLC Estate Planning Worksheet;
- copy of your divorce decree;
- copy of your separation agreement; and/or
- prenuptial agreement;
- list of beneficiaries’ names, addresses, and phone numbers; and/or
- list of assets you would like to leave to your beneficiaries.
These items help your lawyer assess whether to recommend additional tax planning to your estate or not. In addition, you should make a note of ‘pre-tax’ assets (traditional IRAs or qualified retirement plans) and ‘post-tax’ assets (investment accounts or Roth IRAs).
Q: What Questions Should I Prepare to Answer?
A: The two most basic questions are:
- To whom would you like to leave your assets?
- Who would you like to be responsible for important life and death decisions?
Generally, married couples wish to provide first for their spouse and then for their children. Single people with children usually leave the bulk of their estate to their children in equal shares. Unmarried individuals without children should make a list of persons (or charities) they wish to benefit and the percentage share to each. However, you can leave your assets to anyone you would like to designate even if they are not family. In some cases, a professional (such as a bank having trust powers or a private trust company) can be named as a fiduciary. You do not need to know exactly who you will name in every position before meeting with your attorney. Your attorney will help advise you in regard to these matters. Preparation of your documents, however, will be quicker if you bring to your initial consultation the names, addresses and phone numbers of all persons who may be a part of your estate plan.
Q: What else should I think about in preparation for the meeting?
A: If you have any particular issues or concerns, such as disposition of your business in the event of your death or providing for an adult disabled child who is receiving government benefits, you should make a list of those issues and concerns prior to meeting with your attorney. You should discuss whether you are concerned with paying for the cost of a nursing home if one is needed. You should also advise your attorney whether you and your spouse are both U.S. citizens and how long you have lived in Texas during the period of your marriage. If you or your spouse have inherited any assets from someone, you should advise your attorney and identify the inherited assets in your financial statement. Further, if you are able, provide the current beneficiaries that you have named for your life insurance policies, IRAs and qualified retirement plans. If you are thinking of making relatively large cash gifts or gifts of other assets (excluding items that come within the general phrase “household furnishings and personal effects”), you might begin making a list of those persons and what you are considering leaving to them.
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