Our firm has an extensive practice focused on estate planning and probate. The attorneys in the estate planning and administration department are involved in income, gift, generation-skipping transfer and estate tax planning for individuals, families and family businesses of both moderate and substantial wealth. The attorneys regularly contribute to publications and presentations throughout the United States.
Asset Protection Planning
We provide assistance in helping individuals to determine the most efficient and effective methods to protect personal and business assets from liabilities due to litigation, marital discord or other asset risks. These methods include determining the appropriate entity choice, such as a limited partnership, limited liability company, or corporation as well as different types of revocable and irrevocable trusts. Additionally, we will often recommend partition agreements and marital property agreements to convert community property assets into separate property in order to protect marital property from a high-risk occupation of one of the spouses. Lastly, as a part of asset protections, we often use insurance products to help protect assets or provide liquidity for liabilities that may arise.
Charitable Gift Planning
Our charitable gift planning practice involves the development of a plan with clients to help them make charitable gifts in the most effective and efficient manner, either during life or upon death. These techniques include Charitable Gift Annuities, Charitable Remainder Trusts, Charitable Lead Trusts and Endowments, among others.
Estate Tax Planning
Our attorneys provide counsel during all phases of the estate planning process. Initial phase planning includes preparation of wills, family trusts, durable powers of attorney, medical powers of attorney and living wills.
Additionally, the attorneys in our estate planning department utilize various alternatives to accomplish our clients’ family wealth migration, family asset protection and family gift and charitable gift planning goals, including:
- Family wealth migration generation-skipping trusts
- Revocable and irrevocable trusts
- Life insurance trusts
- Grantor trusts
- Grantor retained interest trusts, including personal residence, grantor retained annuity and unitrusts
- Sophisticated beneficiary designation planning for IRAs, qualified plan and other benefits.
- Charitable Planning charitable remainder trusts
- Charitable lead trusts
- Charitable gift annuities
- Private family foundations
The estate planning department also provides continued legal and tax representation to charitable organizations, both public charities and private foundations. Further, attorneys in the Probate, Trust and Estate Administration section provide representation and assistance in the administration of the estate or trust, including probate administration and postmortem tax planning.
Family Business Succession Planning
Our firm’s attorneys work with family business owners to develop structures and procedures that help ensure the family business will continue into the next generation in a productive and harmonious manner. We work with families to develop family business mission statements and family creeds. Additionally, we also advise on more complicated structures related to the business that include benefits for key employees, defined compensation programs and including stock appreciation rights plans and phantom stock plans.
Family Limited Partnerships
The partnership law attorneys are qualified to provide services in the area of partnership law as they have strong backgrounds in corporate law, real estate law, and tax law in addition to being well-versed in partnership issues. The firm provides tax planning services to individuals and existing businesses in connection with the formation, operation and termination of various types of partnerships including general partnerships, limited partnerships and limited liability partnerships. Additionally, the firm advises clients in the areas of buy-sell planning, diversification of the ownership among the partnerships’ employees/owners, and mergers, sales and liquidations of partnerships. The firm also provides tax planning services for its clients related to developing a strategy for operating in a limited partnership format and to minimize Texas state franchise taxes. These services include planning related to restructuring corporate entities to partnerships for state law purposes.
The partnership law attorneys work closely with the firm’s estate planning practice group to assist individual clients with wealth migration and family planning issues. This coordination allows the individual client to obtain an overall management succession plan which is consistent with the client’s desires for his or her family in the future and allows such client to provide for his or her family’s financial needs in the most tax-efficient manner. One tool used to facilitate the client’s estate planning goals is the family limited partnership. By utilizing the family limited partnership as a part of the overall estate plan, clients have the ability to keep assets within the family control to avoid factional ownership interests in succeeding generations and to provide a management structure for succeeding generations by structuring control of the assets in the most capable hands.
In its fiduciary litigation practice, the firm is able to bring together its litigation expertise with the expertise in other areas of the firm to assist clients in trial and appellate courts as well as various alternative dispute resolution forums. In the estate context, the firm’s litigators work closely with the attorneys in the Estate Planning and Probate group to draw on their comprehensive knowledge of trusts and estates law in representing beneficiaries, trustees, executors and guardians in all types of disputes, including will contests, trust reformation, heirship determinations, breach of fiduciary duty cases, defense of estate plans and more. In the business context, the firm’s litigators handle complex fiduciary matters, including disputes involving officers and directors, partners, and other types of special fiduciary relationships.
Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax Planning
We provide a broad range of services in gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer tax. Any time a client wishes to transfer assets to another member of the client’s family, transfer tax implications should be considered. Each lawyer works with the individual client to structure the transfer of assets in the most tax efficient manner, maximizing the use of all available credits, exemptions and exclusions that are available under the gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer tax laws.
IRA and Retirement Plan Beneficiary Planning
Our firm’s attorneys provide representation to fiduciaries and other clients related to the income tax implications and characteristics of trusts and estates. The income tax implications are related to transaction with trusts and estates as well as structuring assets of trusts or estates for the most favorable treatment from an income tax perspective. It includes practical planning and procedural advice on sale, transfer and distribution transactions, tax basis determinations, and income tax planning on IRAs, retirement plans and items of income with respect of a decedent.
Life Insurance Planning
Our firm’s attorneys often make recommendations for the purchase of life insurance on a client’s life for different reasons as part of a simple or a more complicated estate plan. Life insurance is frequently used to:
- provide estate equalization among multiple beneficiaries,
- provide liquidity for estate taxes,
- provide income replacement for a surviving spouse who does not work outside of the home, or
- provide liquidity to a business to purchase ownership from a decedent’s estate.
Our attorneys will work with each individual client and make recommendations on the use of life insurance, but we do not sell life insurance products.
As part of a comprehensive estate plan, the use of revocable and irrevocable trusts is always considered. Our firm has an extensive estate planning practice and our firm’s attorneys are very knowledgeable about all different types of trusts and make recommendations to clients regarding different types of trusts based on the clients’ individual needs. The following is a non-exclusive list of the types of trusts that we prepare for clients on a regular basis:
- Revocable Trusts
- Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts
- Irrevocable Asset Trusts designed for Annual Gifting
- Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts
- Grantor Retained Interest Trusts
- Generation-Skipping (Dynastic) Trusts
- Conduit Trust for IRAs and Retirement Plan Benefits
Wealth Migration Planning
Wealth Migration Planning often involves the use of one or more operating or investment business entities and one or more types of trust structures to make significant wealth transfers to a lower generation. These strategies are often referred to as “squeeze and freeze strategies” because they often have the effect of reducing the taxpayer’s estate and freezing the value and limiting the appreciation. These types of strategies often involve sales of assets to Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts in exchange for some type of deferred payment option. The Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust can be created for the benefit of the descendants, or many times, it can be created for the benefit of the seller/donor. Additionally, Wealth Migration Planning may also involve what are known as Defined Value Gifts and Sales, such transactions being designed so that the donor/seller knows exactly how much he or she is selling or gifting, with the remainder going to a charity or some other type of donee.
The foundation of any well-developed estate plan is the preparation and execution of testamentary documents that carry out the wishes of the testator while providing the most beneficial characteristics for estate tax purposes. These documents not only control disposition of the estate upon death, but also provide assistance during lifetime by appointing agents to act on your behalf during different life events. Our attorneys provide counsel during all phases of the estate planning process, including this initial phase planning, which includes the preparation of Wills, revocable living trusts, Durable Power of Attorney, Medical Powers of Attorney, HIPAA Authorization Forms, Living Wills, Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains, and Organ Donor Cards.