» Wills

A will is a document that explains what you want to happen to your property after you die and who you want to be in charge. To make things smoothest and easiest on your family, your will should contain some very specific legal terms.

Yes and yes. Anyone who has legal capacity can write her own will, but you should not. Estate law is complex and involved. More often than not, a do-it-yourself will causes more trouble for your family in the future because something was not done correctly or the DIY will confuses things more than settling things. That “more trouble” also means it will likely cost your family more money to settle your affairs. Benjamin Franklin’s saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies here too: investing in a solid plan now is usually much less costly than paying to sort things out later. And the peace of mind is priceless.

A holographic will is a handwritten will — written out completely by the person making the will (not typed at all), in that person’s handwriting, and signed by that person. Texas recognizes holographic wills as valid. McCreary Law Office does not recommend this. Confusion, family battles, and high court costs can result.

Further reading: Are Handwritten Wills Valid?

Usually a will from out of state will work in Texas if it is valid in the other state. But that will likely will not work as well as a will drafted by a Texas estate planning attorney. Texas has certain things in probate that turn on language in a will. Other states don’t have the same rules. So your best action is to update your will (and the rest of your plan) when you move.

It depends. Because each client is different, McCreary Law Office does not quote fees for “simple wills.” Too often, what a person thinks is simple is anything but that. And “just a will” does not include the important parts of an estate plan that address incapacity planning. McCreary starts every client’s case with an initial consultation. The fee for that initial hour-long meeting with an attorney is $150.

Further reading: How Much for a Simple Will?

Not exactly, but Texas community property laws complicate things. First, if you own a home, you cannot completely disinherit your spouse because your spouse will have the right to live in the home after your death – even if the home is in your name. For everything else, your spouse has a right to half of any of your community property. Careful estate planning, however, can allow you to do things differently.

Yes. Adult children do not have a right to inherit from their parents. However, how you disinherit your children can lead to complications after your death. Further reading: Deciding to Disinherit a Child

For minor children, the answer is more complicated. Families, including a spouse and minor children, have the right to exempt property or a family allowance. And if back child support is owed, then it can be claimed against your estate. Also, if you are paying child support when you die, all future child support might have to be paid before others inherit.

The best way to leave money to a charity depends on the assets you own, how much you want to leave, and who else you want to include as beneficiaries. Thus, this answer is not straightforward and might shift for different situations.

No. In Texas, as much as McCreary Law Office agrees that pets are part of our families, pets are considered property. In fact, you should name in your estate plan who will receive your pets after you die. Some clients find particular comfort in setting up a pet trust to cover the costs of taking care of your pets.

Probably not. Unless you are certain to have someone else authorized to access your box (and, ideally, a back-up to that person), McCreary Law Office does not recommend storing your will in a safe deposit box. A safe deposit box cannot be opened by someone else until your death. And a court order might be needed. McCreary Law Office instead recommends a fire-proof bag or safe in your home.

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Attorney Jana McCreary

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Houston Estate Planning and Elder Law Attorney Jana R. McCreary has been an attorney for over eighteen years, a career move she made after working for over a decade with adults and children with intellectual disabilities and mental illness. Graduatin… Read More

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