Agnew Law Firm Lubbock, Texas

Probate

Just as a family will go through a loved one's home to identify and distribute personal belongings, the family must also go through a similar process through the loved one's "financial house." The process where financial assets and other legal matters are arranged is called probate. Simply put, probate is the process in which the court appoints someone, called a personal representative, to identify and collect all the property owned by the deceased. The property owned by the deceased is called his estate. Second, the representative pays any debts that may exist. Finally, the representative distributes the assets to those who are entitled to them either under the law or a will.

1) Probate Law in Texas

Probate in Texas is generally not difficult. Because of its simplicity, Texas probate law is regarded as a model for other states. Texas provides many tools that allow us to choose the probate method which best suits your needs. Some of the more simple probate processes can take as little as a month to complete. The most common probate method, in which the estate is administered independently of court supervision, generally takes between three and nine months to complete. Complex estates can take much longer to resolve.

2) What happens while the "process" is occurring?

Often families are concerned about whether they will have access to the property in the estate during the probate process. Generally, a surviving spouse and minor children can have prompt access to enough assets to support the widow or minor children for a period of one year. Similarly, as long as the mortgage is not in default, a widow or minor children will be able to continue to live in the house.

In contrast to surviving spouses and minor children, the law presumes that adult children possess independent means of support. Therefore, they are only permitted to receive distributions in the due course of probate. Even then, distributions can sometimes be made throughout probate, provided the assets exceed the debt; it is seldom that distributions are delayed for a prolonged time.

3) What does probate cost?

Finally, people are concerned about the cost of probate. We cannot guarantee what the cost of the probate of your loved one's estate will be. Each estate is different and as they are different, the costs and fees associated with them can vary dramatically. With that in mind, we can say that, generally, a full probate of a modest to small estate costs between $1,500 and $2,000. Your individual case may be less, or it may be far more. However, when an estate costs more to probate, the assets in the estate are sufficient to bear the fees.

4) Is probate necessary?

During such a difficult time, it is often tempting to ignore the process and leave it for your children to worry about after your death. We understand the uncertainty and the fear involved in probate; we see it frequently with our clients. Allow us to encourage you to probate the estate anyway. If you do not do it, it will be left for someone else to do; it does not go away. If delayed, the information, people, and memories necessary to complete the process are often unavailable. As a result, the process grows more complex, time consuming, and expensive.

Estate Planning

The old adage says that "Only two things in life are certain: death and taxes." Because of that truth, it is important that people plan accordingly! Only you should determine who will inherit your property; only you should decide who will make decisions for you, in the event that you cannot. The right to have your wishes carried out later is worthless unless you act now. Therefore, in order for you to be in charge of your future, you must act now!

It is the goal of the attorneys at the Agnew Law Firm to help you chart your course for the future. We will encourage you to include your values in the decisions that you make.

We are often asked what documents are essential to carrying out your wishes in the future. Usually, those are: 1) a will, 2) a medical power of attorney, 3) a "living will," and 4) a general power of attorney.

1) Wills

Although wills are simple to create, most people never prepare a will. Without a will to indicate your wishes, Texas law determines how your property will pass to family members. However, you may want your property to go to certain family members other than those the state requires to inherit your property. A will ensures that your property, assets, and keepsakes go to family members, loved ones and other beneficiaries as you wish. A myth has arisen that wills are only for the rich; the truth is that the amount of property you own is irrelevant.

But, don't wills require probate? It is common to read and hear about the evils of wills and the probate system. Unfortunately, there are people who prey on unsuspecting people by providing misleading and often totally false information about the process. By invoking fear, they talk people into purchasing a "living trust." There are times when a living trust can make sense. However, for most of us who live in Texas, well-drafted wills and the independent probate process are more cost effective and produce better results. Most lawyers that we know have personally executed wills rather than living trusts. Since neither one costs us anything, simple logic dictates that we believe in wills and the probate process.

2) Medical Powers of Attorney

This document allows you to appoint an agent to make your healthcare decisions in the event you are no longer able to do so.

3) "Living Wills"

Sometimes called "Directives to Physicians," a living will is a set of instructions to your healthcare provider that stipulates the extent to which measures should be taken (consistent with your values) to maintain your life should you be unable to express your wishes.

4) Business Powers of Attorney

No one is immune from aging or the loss of mental clarity that may come with it. And you're never immune to health crises that may leave you unable to handle the business of your life: paying bills, managing investments, or dealing with governmental programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

Granting someone you trust the power of attorney allows that person - known as your "agent" or "attorney in fact" - to manage your business affairs if you are unable to do so. Your agent is empowered to sign your name and is obligated to be your "fiduciary" - meaning they must act in your best financial interest at all times and in accordance with your wishes.

If you become incapacitated without having assigned a power of attorney, the court must step in to appoint a guardian. That process will cost your family thousands of dollars and untold heartache. Plus, the person chosen may not be someone you would have picked.

Business Entities

Our firm would be best characterized as one that works with small businesses. We work with many "start-up" companies in setting up their businesses and clarifying the parties' expectations. Over the years, we have found that no one ever looks at partnership agreements, bylaws, or contracts until something goes wrong. When things do go wrong, people scurry to the underlying documents to see how to resolve the problems. We attempt to avoid as many problems as possible by identifying the problems "upfront" and working with the parties to clarify their expectations vis-à-vis each other.

Early in Ronnie's legal career, a senior partner in the firm where he was working explained his role in this manner: "As lawyers, we are not to be 'deal killers.' Our task is to work with the parties to explore the risks and to make the deal work if at all possible." That philosophy made sense to us. Thus, our role is to assist in making this business venture work for the benefit of all the parties.

General Practice

Often times a business or individual will need help in confronting situations in life that you need legal assistance to work through. After starting your own business, you may decide that you want to sell it. We can help you buy or sell a business, and all of the hurdles you have to jump to accomplish that. For other businesses, we have helped them create a manual of polices and procedures for their employees. We exist to serve our clients in resolving problems - - whatever they may be.

If your business gets sued (or you need to sue someone), we can help you understand the issues and represent you in the litigation.

Real Estate

It's every American's dream - - to own their home. But - how do you get to that point? Whether it is a home, a farm, or commercial building, if you are not using a bank or conventional mortgage broker to finance your loan, we can help you. We can conduct the title research, and we can prepare any documents needed for closing. We can also facilitate closing the transaction between the two parties.
Sometimes a title company will uncover a defect in the title to your property, which prevents obtaining title insurance. While the title company will point out the defect to you, they do not offer assistance in fixing the problem. We assist you in attempting to cure your title defects.