Consider this: About a year ago, a young man unexpectedly died. Like many Americans, he had previously divorced and had a child (who, at the time of his death, was a baby living with her mother). He never executed a Last Will and Testament and wasn’t wealthy. He had what most lawyers would call a “modest estate.” A house, retirement plan, two cars, and some personal items. Nothing too complex or valuable. The total value of his estate (including the equity in his house) was probably worth less than $250,000.
Most people would presume that settling this man’s affairs would have been a legal simplicity. Since there were no major debts and his estate was comprised of only a few assets, it should have been easy. Unfortunately, such an assumption would be patently wrong. The administration of his estate was expensive, time-consuming, and very complicated for one simple reason: his sole heir was a minor child.
Texas law provides that most heirs can consent to a simple, unsupervised court administration of an estate even when the decedent dies without a Will. Unsupervised estate administrations are relatively inexpensive, straight-forward, and typically only last a few months. In such unsupervised administrations, the personal representative of the estate (often a family member or close friend) is tasked with settling debts, selling estate property, and distributing assets to heirs. Unfortunately, however, in a case where a minor child is an heir, the child cannot legally consent to an unsupervised administration so the court must be involved by supervising the administration. When the court is involved, the legal costs skyrocket.
Fortunately, there is a very simple way to avoid this situation and protect your family. I recommend every single parent with a minor child have an attorney-written Last Will and Testament (as well as a few other simple estate planning documents like powers of attorney and a Declaration of Guardianship for Minor Child). Such a plan can simply and easily set forth that (i) the child’s share of the estate passes to the child in trust (and can specify the person who should hold/control the child’s assets); and, (ii) that the estate administration is to be independent, without court supervision. While some may be astonished that such a simple plan can avoid a costly, expensive legal process like this man’s family has endured, the fact remains that advance planning (like getting a Will) is the easiest form of ensuring your wishes are followed and the court does not have to follow complicated, unnecessary steps.
If you are a single parent with a minor child, you need to consult a qualified and experienced lawyer. More information regarding Estate Planning can be found on our website by clicking here. For more information on estate planning in North Texas, or for assistance in these issues, call our offices at (214) 974-8940.
ATTORNEY CHRIS PARVIN is Board Certified in Estate Planning & Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Mr. Parvin is the Managing Partner of the Dallas, Texas law firm of Parvin Law Group, P.C. and serves as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Texas A&M University School of Law. Mr. Parvin can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parvin Law Group, P.C. is a Concierge Law Firm in Dallas, Texas with attorneys practicing law in the fields of Estate Planning, Probate, Business Law and Family Law.