Monday, December 19, 2011

Holidays Are Prime Time to Discuss Estate Planning

Estate planning is about setting ones affairs in order for the benefit of friends and family.  In that way, the holiday season is a natural time to discuss these matters, because it is now when many families are getting together as a group. Particularly for families that do not live close together, this time of the year may be the only one when everyone is all in one place.

This doesn't mean that you need to spend time delving into the specific details of a plan over holiday dinners, but simply mentioning the topic lightly can be important to start the conversation.  If parents or adult childen do not seem willing to get into the details during the holiday, simply explain that you'd like to discuss the subject at a later time. However, if they are receptive, it is helpful to ask them some basic questions. For example, some parents may already have wills drafted.  If so, it is important for other family members to know where it is located and how to access it.  If a will is used, children should ask who has been named executor.  The same is true when more advanced tools like trusts are used, since in those successor trustees have to be named.  Seemingly simple choices come loaded with problems--for example, choosing one child over another for these duties may create hard feelings.  Discussing them ahead of time is often a good approach.

Beyond subtle prompting to get certain estate planning affairs clear, the holidays may also be a good time to share exactly how certain sentimental objects will be distributed.  Of course, each family is different and this may cause discord. However, it is never a good idea for family members to learn who is set to receive certain objects only after a loved one has passed, particularly items with emotional attachments.  Because everyone is together, the holidays may be the ideal time for grandparents or parents to clearly explain what steps they've taken and to answer any questions that family members may have.  The input that they receive from family members may also prove helpful in case something has been left out of planning

All of us at The Greening Law Firm, P.C. wish you very happy holidays.  We are proud to serve the Austin area with estate planning, estate administration, probate, and elder law, and we are excited to begin a new year with our clients, friends, and colleagues.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Squatters Taking Over Tarrant County Homes

This past weekend, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an article highlighting rampant squatting this year in the north Texas County of Tarrant.  County records show that over $8 million worth of property was been claimed by squatters in 2011 when owners were away for long periods or bank owned properties from the housing crisis were vacant.  Among the audacious take-overs were a transplant from Memphis who took over a $2.7 million mansion with an elevator and a five car garage, career criminals who leased squatted homes to tenants, and people citing the Bible as legal justification for their actions.

Unfortunately, the struggle to oust these unlawful tenants is more complicated than it may seem.  There is a loophole in a state law, which allows people to claim abandoned portions of property if there is no owner to dispute the claim.  The original intent of the law was to assist ranchers in claiming vacant land that they had tended to for years.  This law, though, doesn't distinguish between a section of sod worth a few dollars and a mansion worth millions of dollars.  To stake a claim even a court could have a hard time disputing, one need only complete the proper paperwork for a $16 filing fee, maintain the property taxes, and live in the residence for over three years.  Affidavits of possession at the Tarrant County Clerk's office have created a real estate nightmare, making the houses nearly impossible to sell because of the now confused titles of the homes. 

While it may not be a situation applicable to most homeowners, the squatting in Tarrant highlights the importance of guarding your assets.  Be mindful that scams are prevalent and planning always adds predictability.