Monday, July 31, 2017


We are moving by popular demand! Our clients have often told us that they wish to be able to find all of our legal information on our own website. So, after much consideration, we have decided to move our blog to our website.

Many Thanks to Blogger and the Blogger crew and community.

And to our Readers, thank you for your support. 

Family Law, Business Law, Real Estate Law, Probate
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Help Your Lawyer Help You

Teamwork is essential, and there is no better time for cooperative teamwork than when you are facing legal challenges.

Here are some specific things that you can do to help your case progress more efficiently. 
  1. Stay available to the law firm.   If you are going to be away for vacation, having a medical procedure or otherwise unavailable, let the firm know. 
  2. Check your email and voicemail regularly while you are involved in a legal matter. 
  3. Review and return documents promptly. 
  4. Keep the firm updated with any changes of contact information. 
  5. Share knowledge that you have that may help. For instance, an organized timeline of dates or a list of important people in your case with a description of their role in the case can be helpful to your lawyer. 
  6. Be prompt in responding to any deadlines. 
  7. Prepare in advance for any meetings with your attorney by bringing a list of questions you have or a list of new events. 
  8. Be honest with your lawyer about the facts in the case, and about your feelings while going through the process.
  9. Don't be afraid to explore new alternatives.   Many lawsuits settle when one of the parties comes up with a creative solution that both sides can live with. 
  10. Remember that you and your attorney are a team.  Team members not only support each other, they also help each other face reality.  Don't be afraid to play devil's advocate, or to question something that you aren't comfortable with.  And don't be offended if your attorney does the same.  As long as it is done with respect, it is all part of the process.  

Family Law, Business Law, Real Estate Law, Probate
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Friday, May 5, 2017

Zika in Texas

Every now and then we take a break from our usual legal oriented posts to share some information of local interest that may help the public.

It is getting warmer in Texas, and fast.

Zika virus is a concern to Texans.  Although we have not had many issues with this virus, it is important to stay informed and to help stop the spread.   You can read "What Texans Need to Know About the Zika Virus" from Texas A& AgriLife Extension by clicking here. 

Zika is transmitted from the bite of an infected mosquito.  Therefore there are a few things that you can do to help keep yourself safe from Zika. The first is to control your environment to discourage mosquito breeding.   Since they like to breed in standing water, get rid of bacteria-laden water that is standing in old tires, flower pots, bird baths and other containers.   If you must keep standing water around (in a pet dish or birdbath for instance), clean the container often and change the water (pet water should be completely changed daily for the health of the pets as well).

Next, you need to keep yourself safe from bites.  Wearing appropriate clothing (loosely fitting, light colored) and appropriate spray to keep from getting bit will help keep you safe. Try not to go outside or in the woods at times when mosquitoes are most active.

Be careful when you travel to other countries or areas that do have more problems with the Zika virus.  And, when you return, be extra careful not to get bit for at least a week. This is because 80% of people who have Zika don't have symptoms.  If you introduce the virus to your community after your trip the chances of the virus spreading increase dramatically. Most people do not know this about Zika. has more information, including tallies of reported cases by county, advisories for pregnant women and travelers, and much more.

Stay safe! Don't Get Bit! Don't Give Zika a Biting Chance!

Family Law, Business Law, Real Estate Law, Probate
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Texting While Driving Bans Moving Forward in Texas

April, 2017 - The Texas House has passed a bill that would prohibit texting while driving statewide. These bans already exist in several Texas counties, but there is not a statewide ban in effect---yet.  

Many Texas cities already have a ban on using a handheld device while driving. Among these are at least two cities which are local to our law firm: Conroe and Magnolia. A more complete list of the cities with bans can be found on the Texas Department of Transportation site. 

Also, keep in mind that some laws prohibit "texting", but other laws prohibit using "handheld devices".  So, even if you are looking at your GPS, or checking to see who just called you, you may be in violation.  Check out this link from the National Conference of State Legislatures for more information on specific state laws.  And remember, even if there is not a statewide ban on certain behavior, a county or a city ordinance may prohibit it. 

In addition, there are laws that relate to underage drivers using cell phones while driving, such as "drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using wireless communication devices," and "drivers with learner's permits are prohibited from using handheld cell phones in the first six months of driving."  (Texas Department of Transportation website)

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, one in five crashes involves driver inattention.

Family Law, Business Law, Real Estate Law, Probate
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Adult Adoptions & Why They Matter So Much

When you think of an adoption, if you are like most people, you probably think of an adult adopting a child. But if you have been adopted as an adult, or know someone who has, you have a more inclusive view. 

Here is why more people are opting for adult adoption!

When divorce increased in the U.S. in the 1970's, the structure and definition of "family" began to change.  As more blended families came into being, children had more than two parents.

Additionally, there were parents who were not divorced, but were single parents by choice or by situation.

A stepparent raising a child may desire to become that child's legal parent but for various reasons, an adoption did not happen when the child was young.

Here are some situations in which adult adoptions may be sought:

  1.  The "child" (I'll say "adoptee" from now on) had a biological parent who would not agree to the stepparent adoption when the adoptee was a minor;
  2. The biological parent perhaps would agree, but may have been hurt;
  3. The biological parent was not safe and was not a good influence and contacting him/her for permission to adopt would have put the child at risk;
  4. The family realized later in life that they wanted to make the parent-child relationship a legal one as well as an emotional one;
  5. An adult who is adopted does not need a biological parent's permission, therefore the process is simpler and less expensive. 
An adult adoption is a happy situation for the family because it recognizes the love and affection that have existed for years.   We are proud to have been a part of many adult adoptions over the years! 

Please see Laura Kalish's "Guide to Adult Adoption" on AVVO. 

Family Lawyers in The Woodlands, Texas
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Monday, April 10, 2017

A Background Check is Required for an Adult Name Change

An adult who wants to legally change his or her name in Texas will find that a background check is necessary. Fingerprints must be provided and they will be run through state and federal databases in order to receive a criminal background check.  

The petition for name change will be filed in a Texas court. Once the case number is assigned, the fingerprints can be submitted. The results of the background check will need to be transmitted to the court with the case number so that the results can be united with the case file for the judge to see.

There is also certain information which must be included in the petition for name change. This includes Driver's license numbers for the past 10 years, whether the person has been convicted of a felony, must register as a sex offender, has been charged with an offense above a Class C misdemeanor, and other such information.

You cannot just run your own background check privately. It will need to be done through official channels, such as through Texas DPS, the FBI or a local police station.  Check with your attorney or with local authorities if you are not sure where to go in your area.

All of these requirements are in place in order to prevent name changes that are requested for improper reasons, or are sought in order to cover up criminal activities such as defrauding creditors, evading sex offender registrations, or fleeing the law for some other reason.  Some common and permissible reasons that adults seek a name change are: to have their last name match the rest of their family members, as part of an adult adoption, or for professional reasons.

It is common for an adult name change to occur in a divorce, without the person having to file a separate lawsuit.  So, if you are about to divorce and think you may want to change your name, the time to do so is in the final divorce decree. Otherwise, you will have to file a new suit later on.

Family Lawyers in The Woodlands, Texas
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Thursday, April 6, 2017

When can you Finalize your Texas Divorce?

Once the decision is made to divorce, one or both parties may be in a hurry to complete the process.   However, there is a sixty day "cooling off" period in Texas. This means that generally a divorce case will need to be on file for at least 60 days before finalization. 

So, why not go to court on day 61?   Well, it is possible when a case is uncontested. But, in reality, there is a lot to do between the time of filing and the time of the final hearing.   The final paperwork (Final Decree and required Vital Statistics form at a minimum) must be all ready to hand to the judge.  Property and debts will need to be split (on paper and in reality), living arrangements made, insurance figured out, and visitation and support agreements worked out if children are involved.  This usually takes a while to accomplish. Then it is a matter of scheduling an appearance in front of the judge and appearing.

Yes, there are some people who are able to get a divorce in a short amount of time but getting a divorce on day 61 is the exception rather than the rule.

So, don't be disappointed if your divorce isn't ready for finalization on day 61. It is more important to do it right than to do it fast.

Here are a few tips on how to keep things moving along:

  1. Make sure you are both on the same page.   Details matter. Finding out at the last minute that you do not really agree on one or more issues will prolong things and create stress. 
  2. Make sure you know all the requirements and meet them. If you had to take a parenting class, make sure you've done so and that you have proof. Don't forget to fill out all required forms. 
  3. Don't wait until the last minute to review and sign documents. Give yourself plenty of time to read, digest, and ask questions. Then, when you are ready, don't forget to sign. 
  4. Understand Scheduling Issues.   The Court will either schedule your case for a specific time or you may be allowed to appear on a general "uncontested" docket day in first-come-first-served order (depending on the court and the county).  This will require coordination of schedules with the court, one or both parties and one or both attorneys.   
  5. Deal with problems head-on.  If you know there is a problem pending, get it out in the open and out of the way early on. Waiting until the day of the hearing can delay the entire procedure and lead to frayed nerves. 

Family Lawyers in The Woodlands, Texas
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Friday, March 31, 2017

Co-Parenting is not a Competition

"Co-parenting. It's not a competition between two homes. It's a collaboration of parents doing what's best for the kids."  - Heather Hetchler, Author, Blogger, Speaker, Mom & Stepmom

Family Lawyers in The Woodlands, Texas
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Involvement in Child's Life is Important in More Ways than One!

Involvement in a child's life is important for every parent and can become even more so when there is a divorce or custody dispute.

As a legal case unfolds, a lot of details about the day-to-day life of the family are sure to emerge.

A parent who must work, or travel often may feel discouraged and unable to "compete" with the parent who provides more clock hours of child care.  However, it is important not to become discouraged.  Each parent should strive to do the best they can as a parent, while still dealing with the reality of day-to-day life.

For instance, you may be simply unable to go to school events during the work day, but you can attend open house at night and show up for weekend activities. You may not be able to be a Room Parent, but you can talk to your children about school, know what classes they are taking, and know their teacher's names.  You can make sure that you are listed in your child's school records, you can ask for online access to review your child's grades and you can make sure that you are informed of school activities.

When custody and visitation is an issue a lot of factors will be considered in the case. Involvement in the child's life, sincere interest in what the child is doing and taking pleasure in your child's company are important. The history of your day-to-day care of your child will be discussed.  Don't wait to get involved.

Family Law, Business Law, Real Estate Law, Probate
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Local Attorney Comfort Level is a Plus

Having an attorney who is familiar with the county where your case will be filed has its advantages.

There are benefits to having a lawyer who is comfortable with the procedures in your specific court. Comfort that comes from knowing what the judges and the court staff expect. This can help streamline the process and allow the attorney to plan the case very efficiently from the beginning.

Most counties now have their local rules online for everyone to see.  A lawyer who practices often in that particular county courthouse will be familiar with those rules. He or she will also be familiar with the preferences of the judges which do not appear online. (such as whether or not the family law judge requires an in-person appearance for certain orders to be signed, which days certain types of probate hearings are generally held, and so on.)

The "local attorney" does not have to be someone that is right on the courthouse square. For instance, in Montgomery County Texas we have a lot of fine attorneys that are right on the courthouse square. But we have equally fine attorneys who have offices throughout the county who routinely go to the Conroe courthouse.

In times past, it was a great benefit to have an office on the courthouse square because paperwork could be filed quickly.   The lawyer or legal assistant could just walk across the street and file documents, rather than having to wait for U.S. mail or take a big piece of the day driving back and forth to the courthouse. Not anymore. E-filing has put the clerk's office within every lawyer's immediate reach, no matter where the office is located.

There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding which attorney to hire and location of the attorney is only one. When searching for a lawyer, you have the ability to ask these questions and more in the initial consultation.

Wills, Probate & Family Law
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Probate Guidelines in Texas

I enjoy sharing information with our readers to help them navigate the confusing legal process.

Harris County, Texas has some excellent information about probate on their "helpful guidelines" page .
This information can help you understand what to look for in a will, how property passes in the State of Texas if the person doesn't  have a Will, what to do if more than 4 years has passed since the person died, information about how having Medicaid Benefits can affect the estate,and more!

If your loved one has recently passed, reviewing this information can help you decide whether or not it is time to contact an attorney and what you need to gather to proceed on your own.

Keep in mind that this is Texas law and each state has its own probate laws. Also, any procedures described for Harris County probate courts may vary in other counties.

Here is the site:

Wills, Probate & Family Law
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Getting Medical Reimbursement for Your Child's Medical Expenses

If you are the parent who usually takes your child to the doctor, you are probably the one who most often pays the co-pays and deductibles.

Even if your divorce or paternity decree states that you are entitled to reimbursement from the other parent, you may find it difficult to actually get that reimbursement. 

Here are the most important  things to remember to help you recover the money that you are entitled to have. 

  1. Keep your receipts-  This may sound simple, but it isn't always easy to do when you are surrounded with a lot of activity and have a lot to keep track of.   Here is a shortcut: take a picture of the receipt with your phone, then keep the original hard copy receipt in a file. 
  2. Keep track of the total medical amount and the total reimbursement due-  You can use a financial app, a spreadsheet or a good old-fashioned spiral notebook.  
  3. Email or text to communicate with your ex in order to have evidence of your attempts to collect reimbursement for the medicals.  So, if your ex completely ignores the attempts, you will have a record of what you sent in case you need to involve an attorney. Or you can send a gentle reminder to your ex, letting him/her know the date that you first sent your request and showing exactly how long you have been waiting for payment. 
  4. The most common complaint heard from a non-paying parent, "S/he didn't tell me about any medical expenses and then I suddenly got a long list of expenses due and s/he wanted them paid immediately! It was a lot of money."   Submitting the expenses regularly makes it easier on everyone and allows you to ask for smaller amounts, which your ex may have a easier time paying to you. 
  5. If all else fails, consult a family law attorney: If you are unable to collect medical support that is due, you may have to take legal steps to do so. 
  6. Both parents should be involved in the child's life:  Knowing when the child is going to the doctor, getting braces, receiving counseling or other health care prevents the surprise of a large medical bill.  
- By Paralegal Myrna Ramirez and Attorney Laura Kalish. 

Family Law, Business Law, Real Estate Law, Probate
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Denied Access to Your Child during Your Periods of Possession?

Being denied access to your children can be very discouraging.  

The hope that things will soon get better (and the fear of making things worse) may keep you from taking any action at all.  But if you are not keeping accurate records of the denials, then this important evidence can be lost.

If you are being denied access to your children then it is very important that you keep accurate records. Here is what you should do:
  1. Write down the date and times that you were denied visitation during your period of possession. 
  2. Communicate with your ex in writing (text or email is good) so that you can have evidence of your attempts to have visitation and possession.
  3. Be as involved as you can in your child's life.  Attend school activities and stay in touch with your child. Know the names of your child's teachers and friends. 
  4. Visit an attorney for a consult about your rights and bring evidence with you of the times of violations. Keep in mind your ex will have to have had a number of violations in order for you to have a case that can be filed with the court. 
We often see clients who have a good case and we are very sympathetic to them, but the evidence is missing.   Real evidence is always better that two people telling two different stories.  Memories get hazy over time and it may take awhile to resolve a case or get a hearing date.   Having the exact times and dates of the denials is the best way to tell your story.

- By Paralegal Myrna Ramirez with Attorney Laura Kalish

Family Law, Business Law, Real Estate Law, Probate
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Alternatives to Guardianship

Do you suspect that you may need to seek a guardianship for a loved one?  There may be an alternative....

If your loved one is becoming unable to take care of his or her own affairs, you may be thinking about seeking a formal guardianship.  

If your loved one is still competent to make decisions now (even if you suspect that that may not be the case in the future), you may need to act right away.   For instance, a diagnosis of dementia may be received early enough to allow your loved one to be an active part of the discussion and decision-making process.  If so, s/he can plan for the future, signing specific documentation that allows you to help manage his/her affairs now and in the future.  S/he can even designate a guardian for later on, in the event that it becomes necessary. 

There are also ways to use estate planning to help. This is helpful not only in cases of dementia and decreasing capacity, but also in cases where a person is mentally challenged or disabled (whether due to injury, illness, or developmental disabilities).  One or more Trusts may be set up. The purpose of the Trust(s) can be to preserve assets, regulate spending, clearly define legal responsibility of the Trustee and engage in responsible tax planning. 

A formal guardianship, when needed, is a welcome solution. However, if it there are other ways to accomplish the same goals, they are worth investigating.   A formal guardianship includes court administration and court authority over it, which means that the Guardian will be subject to requirements such as filing reports with the court and requesting court approval for spending certain amounts.  Finding the best and least cumbersome alternative is encouraged by judges, while keeping the best interests of the person in mind.   

If a guardianship looks like it may be a possibility, don't wait to find out all of the options. Knowledge is power and planning before there is a crisis is key. 

Wills, Probate & Family Law
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Saturday, February 11, 2017

How to Clean out and Care for a Home After Someone Passes

When a loved one passes away, cleaning out the house can feel like an impossible task. Not only is it difficult to know what needs to be done in a practical sense but it is emotionally devastating. 

Keeping organized is key.   There are legal, practical and humanitarian considerations. First of all, make sure that any pets are fed, watered and taken care of right away.  This is primary.  Secondly, make sure the premises are secure because an empty home can be a target for thieves, especially during the funeral, so ask neighbors to watch the house or ask the police to drive by and keep watch on the property.

Next, locate the deceased person's Last Will and Testament, if there is one. If there are multiple versions or multiple copies, keep them all together.  This can be especially important because there may be funeral instructions contained in the will.

Next, locate & secure important identity papers (social security card, driver's license, insurance cards). You may need these for the planning session at the funeral home.

Then, locate the current bills to find those that need to be taken care of right away. (mortgage payment, utility bills, premises insurance). If there is a Will, who is the named Executor?  If the Will is probated, it will ultimately be the Executor's job to pay bills of the estate and secure the property. If there is not a will, Texas law will determine who inherits.  In some cases, a probate action may need to be filed right away. If you haven't already done so, now is the time to get a legal consultation with a probate attorney to decide the best way to handle the estate.

It is important to make sure the property is secure, clean and safe. If it is unoccupied, arrange for someone to check on the property and make sure the property insurance stays in effect. Keep the place clean and maintained (trash take out, trash pick up, yard work done, gates closed, mail and newspapers picked up) so that it is not a target for thieves or a health hazard.

There are many reliable services available that can help you have an estate sale, clean out the home, recycle, or discard items.   Some of these services specialize in taking care of deceased person's property and can help from day one. Others services may take care of finishing the cleaning process later, once you have distributed, donated, discarded and recycled most of the contents.

*IMPORTANT* If there is a Will, it is important to respect your loved one's wishes. If there is no Will, the law will determine who inherits.    It is not appropriate for people to go into the home and begin randomly removing things (other than taking care of pets). Have a legal consult to determine the right thing to do.  Also keep in mind that the estate may be sued for any accidents that happen when others are driving your loved one's vehicle. So, it is safest to park and lock it.

Family Law, Business Law, Real Estate Law, Probate
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Saturday, February 4, 2017

What are Indemnification Provisions?

Indemnification provisions are present in many types of contracts- service agreements, leases, insurance contracts, and employment agreements - to name just a few.

To "indemnify" someone is to promise to pay the cost of future damage, loss, or injury and therefore to protect them from future monetary damage.

Indemnity provisions are common, "boilerplate" language. This leads many careful, educated people to just blow right past the language, giving it little or no thought- until a problem occurs.

Indemnity clauses are inserted by the party who drafts the contract, and often they are written so that they benefit that party extensively and exclusively.

If you are asked to sign any type of contract indemnifying someone else, look it over carefully. Ask yourself if this is a fair and equitable request.  Are you indemnifying the other party against things that may occur due to your own behavior, or someone else's? If it is not your own behavior, how much control (if any) do you really have over the event, person or company that you are responsible to control? Is there a way to make the indemnity "mutual" so that you can be protected as well?

Mutual indemnity clauses are usually the most "fair". These clauses basically say "I'll hold you harmless for my own mistake or error and you do the same for me!"

Keep in mind that although the language is often presented as "boilerplate" ("oh, we have that provision in all our contracts- don't worry about it") or "non-negotiable" (if you don't sign it, we have nothing more to say to you), that may not be true.  You may be able to negotiate the wording in those provisions.  

If you do choose to indemnify someone, make sure that you understand exactly what you are getting into, what could happen in the future, and what the financial risks are to you and your business.  As always, don't sign anything that you don't understand and make a good investment by seeking legal advice when warranted. A lawyer can tell you about all potential risks and benefits so that you are going into the situation with knowledge.

Family Law, Business Law, Real Estate Law, Probate
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Supporting the Caregivers of Persons With Dementia

If you are a caregiver for a person who has dementia, you need all the support that you can get. Luckily, support is available.  Here are some resources, and some things that you may be able to do to make your daily life go a little more smoothly.

  1. Support Groups online.  Many online resources exist for caregivers. Social media sites such as Facebook have pages and groups that you can join.  Some of these are "private" groups and you will be checked out before you are admitted. This is to allow honesty in posting and prevent advertisers.  
  2. Dementia and Alzheimer's Association. is a treasure trove of information. You can find information about daily care, stages of the disease, free e-learning, a community resource planner and financial planning information. 
  3. Local groups. Your area may have Caregiver's Groups or seminars. For instance, here in The Woodlands, Texas, Interfaith has a Caregiver's Support system which includes monthly learning luncheons, and 2 no-cost conferences a year (the conferences provide care for your loved one if you bring him/her with you). Local hospitals also have support groups that you can attend. 
  4. Private companies and individuals.   You may require additional help from private companies or individuals for daily care, respite care, adult day care, legal assistance, financial planning or other needs. 
  5. Your own family, friends, neighbors, and spiritual advisers.  Don't neglect asking for help from those close to you.  If someone offers help, consider taking it.  Offering to sit with your loved one for an hour, cooking a meal for your family, or running an errand for you are small things that can provide great relief. 
Above all, don't neglect yourself. In order to help your loved one, you must be healthy! 

Wills, Probate & Family Law
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Sunday, January 22, 2017

What Will Happen to your Pet if You Die?

Our pets are family members.  They are also very vulnerable to changes in family situation. Just like other family members, they deserve consideration when you are planning for the future. 

  1. Have the conversation.  Regardless of your age, if you have a pet, you should always consider what would happen if you were gone. If you have a spouse or partner, what would happen if the two of you were deceased at the same time? It is worth discussing with the family members in your home, and talking to the potential guardians for your pet.  
  2. If you have several pets, it can be a more difficult situation. Family or friends may be willing to take one cat, for instance, but not 7.  However, you may have 7 people who are willing to take one each.   Take the time to ask and keep a written summary of who has agreed to do what. 
  3. You can put your wishes into your will.  If you do have arrangements made for your pets, it is worth putting into your will. Your will has legal authority.  In order to keep your will from getting outdated, you can keep the language general. For instance, "I leave any pet(s) that I may own at the time of my death to Jane Doe. If Jane Doe is unable to take them, it is my desire that either John Smith or Bill Jones do so." Or, you can specifically ask your Executor to make arrangements for your pet if you trust him/her to do so responsibly.  In the event that more than one person wants the pet, putting your wishes in your will can settle the dispute. 
  4. You can write a letter and sign it.  Another option is to write a letter, date it and sign it and keep it with your will or your important papers. It won't have the legal authority of a will, but it can guide your family as to what to do with your pet. 
  5. Animal Rescue Groups. Some animal rescue groups may let you make arrangements in advance or may have policies about taking certain types/breeds of animal. Some groups, such as Houston Beagle & Hound Rescue will take a hound back if she was adopted from HBHR and the owner has passed. Other groups may help place animals whose owners have passed. 
  6. Facility home through endowment.  The Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center at Texas A & M has a  program that can provide lifetime care for a pet through enrollment and an endowment. If you have the financial means to afford this type of plan you can be assured that you are helping your own pet, as well as others. 
  7. Reciprocal plans. Have a friend or neighbor that is in the same situation? You can agree to take his/her pets in exchange for a promise of the same. 

Wills, Probate & Family Law
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Your Minor Children and Naming a Trustee in Your Will

Most parents of minor children know that they need to have a current Texas will. But not everyone understands how important it is to name a Trustee to take care of financial matters and how doing so can decrease the time and money spent in legal fees and court time later on. 

Naming a person whom you trust to be the Trustee of your minor children's finances is crucially important.  This position is also sometimes called the "Guardian of the Estate" or "Guardian of the Finances".  

The person who "guards" your child's finances does not have to be the same individual who is "Guardian of the Person" for your child, but, if you prefer, both positions can be filled by one person.

The Trustee (Financial Guardian), will decide how money is spent for your child.  This person will decide when to distribute money and allow unusual expenses, and how to plan for college.

If you are deceased while your child is still a minor, the probate judge will make decisions based upon your Will. If your Will does specifically name a Trustee for the children, the Judge can allow the Trustee more latitude in decision-making (independent administration- that is, more independent from court involvement).  This saves time and money and is preferable to having to have frequent hearings and/or continuous requests for the Judge's approval.   

However, the Judge must look out for the interests of your child, try to follow your wishes, and must also follow the law.  Leaving things "open to interpretation" or worse, not addressing the issue at all can create uncertainty, expenditures and delay. 

If you have minor children, make sure that your Will has appropriate provisions regarding Guardians and Trustees!

Wills, Probate & Family Law
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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What Happens to Social Media Accounts When Someone Dies?

Have you ever considered what would happen to your social media accounts and digital assets if you were to die? 

There are steps you can take right now, AND you can make "digital asset planning" part of your Estate Plan.   

  1. You can have language put in your will that ultimately leaves your digital assets to a certain beneficiary and/or specifies that your Executor will be able to access and terminate or distribute these accounts. 
  2. Some sites allow you to name a "legacy" owner. Facebook, for instance, allows you to name someone who has your authority to take over your Facebook account if you pass away. 
  3. Some password programs allow you to "share" the information with another person immediately, insuring that the person that you trust will have access to all your passwords should something happen to you (even a temporary disability that leaves you unable to act.)
  4. Powers of attorney that allow someone to act for you if you are unable to do so are part of a complete estate plan.  You can specify access to digital accounts as one of the powers that you give your Agent.  This will allow someone to access these accounts if you are living, but unable to act for  yourself. 
  5. Don't put your specific passwords, screen names, account numbers or login information in your legal documents.   Your Will and Powers of Attorney will eventually be seen my many eyes and may even be filed in court records.   Keep a separate list (digitally or hard copy) in a safe, accessible place, free from prying eyes. Update it as needed. 
  6. Don't use the same password for everything, and don't use "common" passwords like "1234".
  7. Keep in mind that many things today are tied to online access. For instance, if you no longer accept hard copy billing statements and pay all of  your bills online it may be difficult or impossible for someone to get access to your accounts to pay your monthly bills without some type of legal documentation such as a power of attorney, court order, or letter of representation from an estate attorney). So you may need to be certain that you make certain passwords accessible to a trusted person. 
  8. You may own digital assets that are intellectual property. These include graphics, websites, platforms, apps, blogs and the like. This is property that will pass to your beneficiaries so make sure that you leave the proper identification, access information and practical instructions in an accessible place and make sure you include these in your estate plan. 
  9. Untended accounts that are left to languish can create a security and privacy risk for your estate if a hacker obtains private information from an unguarded account. 
  10. A wills and estate attorney can help you plan for the practicalities of your individual situation, as well as drafting your legal documents for you.

Family Law, Business Law, Real Estate Law, Probate
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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