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Estate Planning For Nontraditional Texas Families

Estate planning used to be a simple undertaking when traditional families were the norm. Married couples named their children as beneficiaries in their wills and tax laws allowed them to pass on entire estates to one another without liability. If a parent died intestate, probate laws determined how the estate would be divided.

Nowadays, the "traditional" family is the exception rather than the norm.

The majority of modern families are made up of single-parent households, blended families, same-sex couples with children and grandparents raising grandchildren. Our father-daughter law firm represents many kinds of families, all of them unique.

This can create a quandary for some when it comes to estate planning. Nevertheless, we believe estate planning is all the more critical for nontraditional families.

First and foremost, intestacy statutes generally do not protect the survivor in a nontraditional family. Therefore, it is imperative for the nontraditional family to take action to make sure their property goes to who they want and the way they want, either through the creation of a last will and testament or revocable living trust.

Major sticklers for nontraditional families are retirement accounts that provide annuities to only legal spouses. Partners in nontraditional families should check their insurance policies, 401K plans, IRAs and other investments to make sure their loved one is named the beneficiary.

Nontraditional families also must make special arrangements for minors in their care. Estate plans should address questions of guardianship, custody, support, living arrangements and health care.

What will happen to the children if their only legal guardian is Grandma and she's hospitalized? Does that grandparent have a formal custody order or legal guardianship that prevents a biological parent from taking custody? As part of estate planning, the grandparent needs to specify what should happen to the child if he or she can no longer care for that child.

Social security and many employer pension plans do not allow the designation of a beneficiary other than the spouse. To support the child after death, the grandparent may want to place his or her assets in a charitable remainder trust that pays income to the beneficiary.

By the same token, many children today are being raised by same-sex partners. In some cases, the child was conceived by artificial insemination and only has one biological parent. Custody laws don't recognize the nonbiological parent who may have been with the child since birth. If the biological parent dies, the nonbiological parent could be denied custody rights. To avoid questions of custody, couples should work with an attorney to prepare documents that will ensure the child stays with the nonbiological parent and withstand a court challenge.

In the case of a second marriage and blended family, they can limit risks by drawing up a premarital or postmarital agreement and spell out the distribution of assets. A durable power of attorney, health care power of attorney and living will also will help alleviate challenges from an ex-spouse or other family member should a spouse become incapacitated.

There's no cookie-cutter plan for every family. The best way to ensure that your family remains intact and is adequately provided for is to work with a law firm like ours to develop an individualized estate plan that best fits your family's needs.

Contact us if you have questions about what kind of estate planning you need to protect your family or if the planning documents you created in the past are still legally effective and up to date with Texas law.

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  • Richard P. Johnson is Board certified Texas Board of Legal Specialization Estate Planning And Probate
  • Wealth Counsel
  • The College of the State Bar Of Texas Professionalism Through Education
  • Dallas Bar Association
  • Elder Counsel LLC Your Success Our Commitment Excellence in Elder Law and Special Needs
  • NAELA tm National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Inc.
  • Marcie Johnson
    was named in
    Best D 2016
  • Richard Johnson
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The Johnson Firm, P.C.
2400 Lakeside Blvd.
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Richardson, TX 75082

Phone: 972-364-7176
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