Estate Planning Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have questions about estate planning? Do you need to know more about process of creating a Last Will and Testament? Are unsure if you need a lawyer?

Our most frequently asked questions (FAQs) provide answers to the most common estate planning questions asked by clients. Please select a category to narrow your FAQ search.


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  • What Happens to Your Facebook Account After You Die?

    After you die, Facebook allows your immediate family, upon verification, to memorializing your account, delete your account or remove it. Recently, there has been a new option added to Facebook called a “legacy contact”.

    In February of this year, Facebook announced a policy that allows you to designate a “legacy contact,” who’ll be allowed to post on your timeline after your death. Your legacy contact must to be one of your friends on Facebook. You can find the legacy contact in the security section of your Facebook. You are only able to select one of your Facebook friends. The contact you choose will be notified when your death has been reported to Facebook, and your account is memorialized.

  • Did the Estate Tax Change in 2015?

    Yes, as of January 1, 2015 the estate and gift tax exemption has changed. The estate and gift tax exemption and the GST tax exemption has changed from $5.34 million to $5.43 million. Now more than ever it is important to be responsible and educated with any changes or updates made to taxes, regardless of what your assets look like. We recommend that you contact your attorney to ensure that your estate planning documents achieve your tax planning goals.   

    Use our 2015 Estate, Gift & Generation-Skipping Tax Chart to help you navigate through your estate tax planning for the new year.

  • Do I Need Life Insurance?

    Life Insurance is not for everyone. There are two specific situations where you need to seriously consider life insurance.

    The first situation is if you are in an estate tax bracket. Meaning, you have an estate that is above 5.43 million dollars. As an estate planning attorney, we utilize life insurance by putting it into a trust to pay the estate tax. This type of trust is called an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT).  

    The second situation is if you are a young couple and have small children or if you are about to have a child. It’s important to consider that if one spouse passes away, you may have to deal with the loss of income of that spouse or if there is a stay at home mom, you may have to deal with the loss of the primary caregiver for the child. In these kinds of situations we recommend looking at term life insurance and making sure that you have enough to cover the loss of a loved one.

    If you do find yourself in one of these two situations, take the time to look into life insurance in order to protect your estate and your family.

  • What is an Ascertainable Standard?

    An ascertainable standard is put into a trust in order to give the trustee guidance as far as when and how they need to make distributions to the beneficiaries.

    A trustee can make distributions to a beneficiary for health, education, maintenance and support. This is also known as the “HEMS” standard. This standard gives the trustee some restriction on what they can make distributions for, but is broad enough language to ensure the beneficiary is taken care of.

    For additional information about trusts, request our free book, Do I Really Need a Will.

  • What are the Benefits of a Lifetime Trust?

    There are many benefits to creating a lifetime trust. A lifetime trust can apply to any trust you create and will last for the lifetime of the beneficiary or beneficiaries. It can be applied to an irrevocable trust, a revocable living trust or a testamentary trust. We recommend you think about this lifetime trust option when creating a trust, especially if the beneficiaries of the trust are children.

    The great thing about a lifetime trust is that the beneficiaries of the trust will benefit from the trust for their entire lifetime. They can receive distributions from the trust for health, education, maintenance and support, which are pretty broad terms. We call this “perfect asset protection” because the beneficiaries never receive an outright distribution of one lump sum during their lifetime. If a beneficiary is ever sued or gets divorced, a creditor or an ex-spouse cannot get to the money in a lifetime trust. 

  • Who or What Can Be a Beneficiary?

    You are able to name the following as a beneficiary:

    • One person
    • Two or more people
    • A trust, that is controlled by the appointed trustee
    • A charity
    • Your estate

    This list is not all inclusive and you will need to speak with a qualified estate planning attorney to discuss your options when choosing a beneficiary. For additional information about beneficiaries, read our latest blog, The Basics of Beneficiaries.

  • What is a Beneficiary?

    A beneficiary is a person chosen as the recipient of funds or property under a will, trust, insurance policy, 401(k), etc.

    For example, the beneficiary of a life insurance policy is the person who receives the payment of insurance after the death of the person that was insured.

  • Can I have another attorney review my estate planning documents?

    Yes, you are able to have another attorney look at your estate planning documents. You need to ensure that they are a qualified estate planning attorney.

    If you feel you need another attorney to review your documents, that tells us that you didn’t have the confidence in that attorney. If that is the case, then we recommend another estate planning attorney that will grow with you.

    For more information on hiring the right attorney, read our article: What to Look for When Hiring an Estate Planning Attorney.

  • What Does My Estate Consist Of?

    People don't understand what their estates consist of. A lot of times, someone comes in here and says, ‘You know what, I really don't have a lot of money. I have a house; I have a savings account, a checking account. That's really all I have.' Well, my question is, ‘Do you have a life insurance policy?' ‘Well, yeah I have a life insurance policy, but it's not mine, I don't get to benefit from it, it's for my husband, my wife, my kids when I die.'

    People need to really understand what their estates consist of. It consists of any life insurance policy that you may have, any 401k, any IRA, any business interests that you may have, no matter how small. Your house, any vacation homes, your savings accounts, checking accounts, stocks, bonds. When someone really sits down and writes a list of all of those things and how much they have, people are surprised at what their estate truly consists of and how much money there is.

    Want more information? Print our Estate Planning Checklist. This list will enable you to see what your assets are and will be helpful to you when speaking with an estate planning attorney to determine what estate plan is best for your particular situation.

  • Do I Need a Sophisticated Estate Plan?

    Estate planning is no longer just for the wealthy. Depending on your circumstances and what your assets consist of, there may be a place in your estate plan for sophisticated planning, but in most cases, sophisticated planning in not necessary. Speak with a qualified estate planning attorney to discuss your options.

    Aren’t sure what your assets consist of? Get started by printing out our Estate Planning Checklist!

  • What is a Spendthrift Trust?

    If you have a spouse, child or grandchild that loves to spend money they are considered a spendthrift. Whether you give them $50 or $5,000, they will spend it very quickly.

    "Studies have shown that out of 100 children who inherit $1 million dollars, only 1 child will still have that $1 million after a 10 year period."

    There is a special Trust that can be incorporated in your Will for the benefit of your loved one. It is called a Spendthrift Trust. This Trust will ensure that your loved one does not spend the lump sum of their inheritance all at once.

    As the creator of the Trust, you appoint a Trustee, who is someone you trust, or even a Bank or Trust Company. The Trustee you appoint has the authority to make distributions to your spouse, child or grandchild. All of the assets of the Trust are used for their benefit but your loved one cannot access the assets on their own. This will ensure that the assets in the Trust last for an extended period of time.

  • How do you keep your kids from spending their inheritance all at once?

    There are Trusts the can be set up within a Will to protect children from spending their inheritance all at once. The Trust can take effect after you die or take effect while you are living.

    The Trust will ensure that you have a trustee in place to give distributions to your beneficiaries (children or grandchildren). The trustee can distribute the funds to the beneficiaries for health, education, maintenance and support. These terms ensure that a child or grandchild does not get a lump sum of money outright. This type of Trust is called a Spendthrift.

  • Do I Need an Attorney if I’m Buying Real Estate in Texas?

    We recommend that you consult with an attorney before buying real estate. An attorney can be especially important in complex housebuying transactions. Also, depending on the volume you are purchasing, there are entities that you can create for liability purposes, asset protection and creditor protection.

  • Where should I keep my Will?

    Let’s first start where NOT to keep your Will. We recommend to our clients NOT to keep their original Will in a safe deposit box. The reason for this is in order to gain access to the safe deposit box, the banks generally require some type of order from the court. An order from the court adds on not only delay, but an expense that is not necessary.

    We always recommend that our clients keep their original Will in a type of fire proof lock box or safe that they have in their home. It is important that the original Will be kept in a safe place where access is not easily gained by family members or friends. The reason for this is if a family member or friend gains access to the original Will and tears it up, there is a presumption that you revoked it. Although in the state of Texas a copy of a Will can be probated, the applicant that is generally named executor, must first overcome the presumption that the Will was in fact destroyed or revoked.

    Want more information on Wills? Request our FREE Book,

    Do I Really Need a Will?

  • What Is a HIPAA Authorization Form?

    A HIPAA authorization permits you to name individuals to have access to your medical information and records.

    The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996.  Title I of HIPAA protects health insurance coverage for workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs.  Title II of HIPAA, known as the Administrative Simplifications (AS) provisions, among other things addresses the security and privacy of health data.

    We all have a right to privacy of our medical records.  No one is allowed to get any medical information without our consent.  However, there may be times when a family member or close friend may need to access your medical records and you are not able to give consent.  For example, if you had a surgical procedure and something happened during the surgery that put you in a coma, your family would want to access your medical records to determine if the hospital staff or doctor did something wrong.  Without your consent, your family will need to go through the legal process to obtain these records.  In this example, you are not able to give consent.  Signing a HIPAA Authorization allows you to name an individual or individuals to have access to your medical records and other medical information, without having to go through any court process or hiring an attorney just to get the records. 

     As you can see, it is important to have the proper documents in order for your estate.  Working with a qualified estate planning attorney is necessary to make sure things are prepared properly to relieve any concerns you might have.

    Want more information on what's included in an Estate Plan? Read our article, Estate Planning 101.

  • What are the requirements to write a Will in Texas?

    To prepare a Will in Texas, you must:

    • Be at least 18 years old, legally married, or serving in the armed forces.
    • Be of sound mind at the time of executing the Will.
    • Not be forced or deceived to make the Will.
    • Have the intention to distribute property upon your death.


    For information about writing a Will in Texas, request our FREE Book, Do I Really Need a Will?

  • What is a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare?

    A durable power of attorney for healthcare (also known as a Medical Power of Attorney) is a document that allows the person or persons you have designated to make medical decisions on your behalf.  This document can only be used if you are incapacitated and are not able to make your own medical decisions.

    You definitely want to choose this person carefully.  The person you choose should be able to do three key things:

    1. Have a full understanding of your medical situation regarding your health and treatment.

    2. Always keep your best interests and wishes in mind when making medical decisions pertaining to you.

    3. Be able to handle the stress of making tough medical decisions.

    Want more information on what's included in an Estate Plan? Read our article, Estate Planning 101.

  • What is a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney?

    The statutory durable power of attorney is a document that allows the person or persons you have designated to handle your finances.  This document is used if you are incapacitated and are not able to manage your financial affairs yourself.

    A statutory durable power of attorney can also be used if you need someone to take care of your finances immediately, for example if you are planning to be out of the country for an extended period of time but will need someone to continue taking care of your house or bills.

    The person you designate must act in your best financial interest and according to your wishes.  Basically, this document answers the question, “If you become incapacitated, who do you want stepping in on your behalf?”  Without a power of attorney, the judge is the one who will answer this question, not you. That's why it's so important to have your estate planning documents in order.

    Want more information on what's included in an Estate Plan? Read our article, Estate Planning 101.

  • How Often Should I Review My Will?

    We recommend that you review your Will annually. And the reason for that is that there are different things that may happen in your life, you may have started a family and now have kids, or you may come into additional assets that you want to be distributed differently. You do want to review your Will and your Estate Planning Documents at least annually to make sure that your affairs are in order and to make sure that your wishes are in writing and signed off on legally.

    For more information on Estate Planning, request our free book- Do I Really Need a Will?

  • Can I write my own Will?

    Yes, you can write your own will. This type of will is called a HOLOGRAPHIC WILL. What exactly does that mean? You can prepare this Will anywhere. The only requirements are that it is wholly in your handwriting, it is signed by you, and it is dated. It can be written on anything! A piece of paper, the back of a menu, the back of a business card, and the list can go on.


    These Wills must have testamentary intent. What does this mean? I suggest you have the words Last Will and Testament on the top of the paper. Although this is not absolutely necessary, it is recommended. It should revoke all previous Wills and Codicils signed by you. It should also fully dispose of all of your property and not just certain items. It should appoint an Independent Executor to serve without bond and without court supervision. (Hint: these are buzz words we recommend). Another word of caution I would give is that although this Holographic Will is completely valid, it is not recommended to be used in every situation.