Prince, Aretha Franklin, Pablo Picasso, Howard Hughes, Abraham Lincoln and Sonny Bono have one thing in common. They all died without a will.
They are not alone either. AARP, which focuses on Americans over age 50, says 41% of Boomers and 76% of people under age 34 do not have wills. In the middle of a pandemic.
Longtime Humble attorney Mike Carr has had clients in emergency situations without a will. He instructed those clients to handwrite wills with two witnesses signing.
“This should only be done in emergency situations,” Carr stressed.
Not having a will means that the State of Texas determines what happens to a person’s assets.
“Under Texas heirship law, which has been in effect since the 1800s, not having a will means one-half of the property acquired during a marriage passes not to the spouse but equally to all children, unless the surviving spouse is parent of all the children of the diseased spouse,” Carr said.
Yes, dying without a will gets mighty complicated.
“The main danger of not having a will is uncertainty and the matter could end up tied up, possibly in court, for many years,” said Humble attorney Malcolm Dishongh. “Who gets the decedent’s property? How is it to be distributed? What are the additional barriers that must be overcome?”
In many instances, Dishongh says a person dying without a will who had children from a previous marriage would end up having their property distributed in a manner that they really did not want.
Not updating a will can be chancy, too.
“Laws change over the years,” said Kingwood lawyer Tamara Hensarling Paul. “When I began practicing in 1991, an individual’s tax exemption was $600,000. In 2020, it is $11.58 million. Individuals need to check their wills, especially if they were written in the 1990s and early 2000s to see if they are up to date for today’s laws.”
Hensarling Paul says wills also should be reviewed because of divorces, marriages, births, deaths and potential issues of a person not being able to manage funds.
The Tribune spoke with these three local lawyers about wills in the age of COVID-19.
Carr grew up in Huffman and graduated from Humble High School. He earned his business degree, magna cum laude and his law degree, summa cum laude, both from the University of Houston. His practice, at 902 East Main in Humble, centers on wills, probate and real estate. He is certified by the Texas Board of Specialization in commercial, residential and business law. For more than 30 years, he also has operated Independence Title Company.
Dishongh grew up in Aldine, graduated from MacArthur High School, attended Houston Baptist University on a debate scholarship graduating with honors, then obtained his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center. His practice, Dishongh Law, is in the Humble Law Center, 116 South Avenue C, in Humble. He assists clients with wills, estate planning, powers of attorney, personal injury, consumer matters, construction law, business matters, real estate and family law including divorce, child custody and child support issues.
Hensarling Paul is a native Houstonian and fourth-generation Texan who graduated from the University of Houston School of Law. One of the founders of the law firm of Currin, Wuest, Mielke, Paul and Knapp, located at 800 Rockmead Dr, Suite 220, in Kingwood, she concentrates in the areas of wills, trusts, powers of attorney and probate.
And while end-of-life planning can seem morbid, all three lawyers not only see a need to prepare a will, they have seen, as Carr said, “… an increase in the preparation or updating of wills since COVID-19.”
“I have had quite a number of individuals contact me about their concerns for their estate after COVID-19 started and have heard that other attorneys are experiencing a like increase in contact,” said Dishongh.
Prior to COVID-19, Hensarling Paul held client meetings in person, “… now I meet with my clients by phone or via Zoom,” she said. “At this time, clients only have to come into our office to sign the documents.”
COVID-19 has led to many changes with Dishongh as well. “In certain ways, it has assisted us in becoming more focused on our client-based representation,” he said. “We participate in Zoom conferences and hearings at least once a week and maintain social distancing with masks and hand sanitizer when we meet.”
Carr requires an in-office conference to discuss issues directly with the client “… so we can ensure their wishes are properly prepared in the will,” he said. And masks are required when clients come to his office. His conference area provides at least 6 feet separation, and he has lots of hand sanitizer.
While Texas allows individuals to write their own will, Carr, Dishongh and Hensarling Paul point out the hazards.
“There can be issues with the will if it was not executed properly. Many of the probate litigation cases come from handwritten wills or ones prepared from an online source,” said Hensarling Paul. “An attorney can provide proper wording and discuss options available that the client wouldn’t know about.”
“There are certain laws in Texas that have to be followed and an individual writing their own will normally does not know the law,” said Dishongh. “Most people do things in writing up a will that causes it not to be a valid will.”
Carr warns about “… attempts to save a buck,” noting that he has seen numerous cases where the party thought they knew how to correctly prepare the will but were not and so were ineffective.
Drawing up a will may not be at the top of anyone’s to-do list but, in the age of COVID-19, it has become essential if an individual has minor children, wants to disinherit individuals, or doesn’t want the state to decide how their estate will be distributed.
Don’t be like Prince, Aretha Franklin, Pablo Picasso, Howard Hughes, Abraham Lincoln and Sonny Bono.
“Call a lawyer,” said Dishongh. “We can make it easy.”
Contact Carr at M.R. Carr Law Firm, 281-540-1220, mrcarratty.com; Dishongh, Dishongh Law, 281-913-5576; or Hensarling Paul, Currin, Wuest, Mielke, Paul & Knapp, 281-359-0100, cwmpk.com.