Documents Needed When Creating or Updating Your Will

Whether you’re having a first Will drafted or updating an older one, you can help speed up the process by bringing copies of specific documents to your appointment. If possible, try to bring copies that you can leave behind for an extended period of time.

It’s also useful if you can readily explain the special circumstances involved with any beneficiaries you’ll be naming in your Will. For example, be sure to tell us if someone is still a minor, has a major disability – or may be difficult to contact due to unique job or living arrangements. Finally, keep in mind that all major life events can require future Will updates.

We hope the information we’ve shared below will help you locate the documents we’ll need when first meeting with you regarding your current estate planning needs. Many assets may be transferred either by contract or under a Will, so letting us know of any existing contractual beneficiaries aids in your overall estate planning. Our goal is to create a comprehensive estate plan that allows you to provide testamentary gifts to all of your chosen beneficiaries.

Documents/Information That Helps Attorneys Analyze Your Assets & Desired Gifts

  • A thorough list of all real property you own/co-own (or are currently purchasing). We will need copies of all property deeds that state your ownership rights – and all related mortgage documents.
  • Copies of your most recent checking and savings account statements, together with any designation of beneficiaries.
  • A list of all automobiles you own – including all other motorized vehicles titled in your name (and information stating how much you owe on each one of them).
  • Copies of all personal life insurance policies, together with any designation of beneficiaries.
  • Documents describing all structured settlements that name you as a beneficiary.
  • Your most recent certificate of deposit and brokerage firm statements, together with any designation of beneficiaries.
  • Copies of your most current 401(k), IRA, Roth, Keogh, pension, or other retirement account statements, together with any designation of beneficiaries.
  • A comprehensive list of all monthly rents and other payments owed to you personally – or to your business.
  • A complete list of all of your current stocks and bonds, together with any designation of beneficiaries.
  • A comprehensive list of all of your most valuable personal property, including: jewelry, artwork, household furniture, antiques, and other similar possessions.
  • A thorough list of all outstanding credit card debts owing – as well as any other lines of credit you’re trying to pay off.
  • Documents indicating any type of monthly support or inheritance you currently receive. This might include spousal support payments or trust account payments. You may also want to tell us about any testamentary gifts you expect to receive in the near future.
  • Any important information concerning your pets, such as veterinarian, special diet, person to care for your pets.
  • A list of any other major assets (or debts) that you haven’t already named above. Also, please be prepared to tell us about any bankruptcy filings you’ve made – either business or personal ones – during the past 10 years. Be sure to bring copies of any paperwork documenting those filings.

Information to Designate Persons to Carry Out Your Wishes

  • Full legal names, birthdates, addresses and phone numbers for:
    • Executor and two alternates;
    • Trustee and two alternates;
    • Guardian and two alternates;
    • Medical Power of Attorney and two alternates;
    • Financial Power of Attorney and two alternates;
    • Medical Provider.

Common Circumstances that Can Trigger the Immediate Need to Update Your Will

  • You get married – or divorced.
  • You adopt a child or have one born to you or your spouse/partner.
  • When one or more of your beneficiaries pass away. Depending upon the type of gifts you left to these individuals – and how they were structured – you may or may not need to update your Will. Please always call and check with us upon such deaths.
  • You gain or lose a business partner – please contact us so we can be sure your Will fully protects all of your rights regarding this type of change. Likewise, please get in touch if you change the legal structure of your business enterprise – e.g., you change it from a solo-proprietorship to a partnership – or corporation.
  • A family member’s health has significantly declined. Also, please be sure to tell us if a beneficiary has started receiving social security disability payments so we can properly structure all gifts or funds you’re providing to this individual. If you fail to do this, it can threaten this person’s ongoing eligibility to receive such government payments.
  • Whenever you purchase or inherit a new home, new land, or other real estate.
  • You significantly add to – or diminish – the number of insurance policies you’re keeping current.
  • When you personally become seriously ill. This will let us check to be sure your current medical insurance and insurance policies will fully cover all of your needs.
  • Please let us know when you’ve changed your legal home or business residence. There may be new tax consequences that should be reviewed. Likewise, let us know if you decide to change the nature of your current citizenship.
  • You inherit a very large sum of money. Likewise, please inform us if you’d like to start giving large sums of money to one or more charities.
  • One of your current beneficiaries can no longer manage his or her financial affairs. This can occur due to general physical or mental health issues – as well as due to various accidents or addictions.
  • There are major changes in your earnings or investments. This will allow us to properly adjust the size and types of gifts you may want to give to different individuals.
  • You hear about major state or federal tax changes that could affect your estate. Rest assured, we normally contact all of our clients under such circumstances. However, we’re always here to answer any questions you may have.

While the information shared above is fairly comprehensive, we believe it’s important for our clients to fully understand all aspects of the estate planning process.  In light of that goal, we’ll now also note some of the unusual events that can prevent a named beneficiary from receiving your designated gifts. If you’ll stay in close contact with us, we can usually prevent this from occurring.

Reasons a Named Beneficiary May Not Receive All Indicated Gifts

  • We cannot locate a beneficiary. Of course, your executor has a legal and fiduciary duty to hire all necessary personnel to locate all named beneficiaries. It’s always a good idea to provide our office with any new addresses for your beneficiaries, especially when they move out of the country.
  • A later divorce takes place. In an effort to protect testators who forget to update their wills after divorcing, many states have passed laws that prevent former spouses from receiving property the testators would not have wanted to give them had they updated their Wills. Of course, it’s always best to immediately contact us whenever you divorce or remarry.
  • A gift has abated. When you pass away, your estate may not be large enough to cover all of your taxes and expenses. In some cases, we may still be able to provide some gifts on a pro-rated basis, in keeping with the terms of your Will.
  • Your Will conflicts with the legal requirements of a governing community property state (like Texas) in which you live. This is one of the reasons why it’s always wise to allow our firm to carefully review any Will you already have that was drafted by another estate planning attorney. While such errors are rare, they can invalidate all or part of your Will – if it fails to honor the division of marital property required by this (or another) community property state.
  • A court later declares your Will to be void for legal reasons. This is extremely rare and would usually only occur if certain types of fraud (or mistakes) were involved.
  • A gift causa mortis has been made. While this is rare, it simply means that if a person’s death is imminent – and he/she makes a specific gift to someone (often a person right there in his/her presence), the prior named beneficiary may not receive it. Courts will naturally need to investigate this type of situation to be sure undue influence wasn’t involved or any type of fraud.

We hope this general overview of information has proved useful. However, please know that our attorneys are always available to answer any questions you may have concerning your estate planning needs.

The Texas Margin Tax – H.B. 500

In 2013 the Texas Legislature enacted H.B. 500 which provided for a temporary margin tax rate reduction, a new minimum deduction, expanded deductions, new credits for certain taxpayers, and customer-based sourcing for Internet hosting receipts. The law went into effect January 1, 2014.

A franchise tax (or margin tax) is imposed on all taxable entities. Under H.B. 500 a “taxable entity” means a partnership, limited liability partnership, corporation, banking corporation, savings and loan association, limited liability company, business trust, professional association, business association, joint venture, joint stock company, holding company, or other legal entity. The term includes a combined group. A joint venture does not include joint operating or co-ownership arrangements meeting the requirements of Treasury Regulation Section 1.761-2(a)(3) that elect out of federal partnership treatment as provided by Section 761(a), Internal Revenue Code.

For all taxable entities under this legislation, the revised tax base is the taxable entity’s margin defined as the lowest of the following:

  1. Total revenue less cost of goods sold;
  2. Total revenue less compensation; or
  3. Total revenue times 70%.

The margin tax is imposed at 0.5% on retail and wholesale trade businesses and 1% on all other taxpayers. The rate could be reduced provided the probable revenue estimates as certified by the Comptroller are calculated to offset any revenue lost by the rate reduction. In that event, H.B. 500 establishes temporary rate reductions as follows:

  1. 2014 – 0.4875% for retailers or wholesalers, and 0.975% for other taxpayers.
  2. 2015 – 0.4750% for retailers or wholesalers, and 0.950% for other taxpayers.

The rate for reports due in 2014 was actually reduced as indicated above. It is estimated by the Comptroller that probable revenue for the fiscal period applicable to 2015 will be sufficient to also allow for the rate reduction for 2015.

A taxable entity is primarily engaged in retail or wholesale trade if: (1) the total revenue from its activities in retail or wholesale trade is greater than the total revenue from its activities in trades other than the retail and wholesale trade; and (2) less than 50% of the total revenue from activities in retail or wholesale trade comes from the sale of products it produces or products produced by an entity that is part of an affiliated group to which the taxable entity also belongs, except for those businesses under Major Group 58 (eating and drinking establishments); and (3) the taxable entity does not provide retail or wholesale utilities, including telecommunication services, electricity, or gas.

Under H.B. 500, the retail or wholesale trade definition was expanded to include automotive repair shops, equipment rent-to-own transactions, and rental or leasing of tools, party and event supplies, furniture, or heavy construction equipment.

H.B. 500 adds certain deductions from margin tax apportioned to operations in Texas, including deductions for cost of solar energy devices, cost of clean coal projects, and relocation costs by certain taxable entities. H.B. 500 also provides for certain exclusions from revenue and amends the calculation of cost of goods as it applies to pipeline companies under certain circumstances, and as it applies to movie theaters. There is also a $1 million deduction from total revenue for small businesses.

The new sales sourcing rule for internet hosting companies provides that, for reports due on or after January 1, 2014, receipts are considered derived in Texas only if the consumer of the service is located in Texas.

The enactment of H.B. 500 created many changes to the margin tax and cost of goods rule, most of which are favorable to certain businesses. As a result of the more complicated margin tax and cost of goods sold calculations under this legislation, affected taxpayers should review these matters for previously filed returns, audits and future returns for potential refund claims and/or tax savings.

Too Many Working Women Still Plagued By Sexual Harassment

Although record numbers of American women have joined the workforce during the past fifty years, far too many of them are still being sexually harassed. In fact, roughly 7,200 new charges of sexual harassment are filed each year (only 17% of which are filed by males).

All of these victims are entitled to justice and most hope their cases will help curb this epidemic. During recent years, it’s been estimated that about one-fourth of all women have been sexually harassed at work. Far too many have also been assaulted on the job – and some even partially blamed for the horrific offenses committed against them.

This creates a terrible burden on women who must not only birth all children – they must also often join the full-time workforce — because so many American couples cannot afford to live on just one spouse’s paycheck, especially when children are involved.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Definition of Sexual Harassment  

Everyone seeking to file a federal lawsuit alleging sexual harassment (under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) must first file an EEOC claim. However, the time period in which to file an EEOC claim is extremely short. If one misses the deadline, all further claims are barred.Therefore, it’s important to review how this agency defines this type of abuse. The EEOC says, “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include ‘sexual harassment’ or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”

Critical Facts, Theories, and Statistics: Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace

  • Identity of the harasser. This can be your own supervisor, one from a different area, an employer’s agent, a co-worker – or even a non-employee;
  • Legally forbidden behaviors. This can include being asked for sexual favors, being physically touched in an unwanted (sexual) way, or other types of unsolicited sexual advances;
  • Hostile or offensive work environment. If you are forced to endure any of these types of behaviors and they “unreasonably interfere with your work performance or create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, then . . . [they may constitute] sexual harassment;”
  • Lower-wage females especially vulnerable. The less a woman earns on the job, the more likely she is supervised in a way that may weaken her opportunities to report or file a successful EEOC claim for sexual harassment;
  • A number of workplace experts see declining judicial support for women who file sexual harassment claims. Some recent U. S. Supreme Court decisions imply that “big business” receives sympathetic help from the courts;
  • Too many employers fail to provide effective training that forbids sexual harassment. Not only does this greatly increase the likelihood of harassment – it also subjects these employers to more successful plaintiff lawsuits. Igonorance is not bliss. In addition to such training, employers need to create “an effective complaint or grievance process and [take] immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains;”
  • Women working in the military – as well as in the fields of high-tech and science. Sadly, these hard-working and highly intelligent women face unusually high incidences of both sexual harassment – and assault — due to their special talents and unique jobs once largely held by men;

How Our Office Helps Women Seeking to File Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

One of our attorneys will meet with you in a free, initial consultation and listen confidentially as you discuss the facts of your case. If necessary, we can help you prepare your EEOC filing, fully investigate your case, and then file your lawsuit in the appropriate federal court.

We always provide our services in as sensitive a manner as possible and understand the type of trauma most women experience regarding sexual harassment. Our firm will also explain to you how different stages of your case will most likely unfold while we prepare your case for trial. You can rest assured that we will do everything we can to succeed on your behalf.