Thursday, October 11, 2018
Probate court is expensive and time intensive, and the majority of accounts have beneficiary designations that allow them to be transferred outside of probate. With a trust, more assets can be transferred outside of a courtroom. Financial institutions are called upon to help a customer determine what type of account to use and, after death of the customer, review legal documents and carry out the transfer instructions.
There are other tools that can be utilized to avoid a formal probate process, such as a small estates affidavit in Texas for estates that have less than $75,000 in assets (excluding the homestead). If there is a will and there are no unpaid debts or a need for administration, the will can be admitted to probate under a unique Texas proceeding known as a “muniment of title.” No administrator will be assigned and banks will be presented with a certified copy of of either a a small estates affidavit or an order admitting a will to probate as a muniment of title to pay out the funds in the accounts.
Power of attorney (POA) can also avoid the complex issue of a guardianship, and under a new state statute passed in 2017, POAs in Texas have expanded powers. Due to this, financial institutes also have a statutory obligations to report alleged fraud or abuse of the elderly to the proper authorities.
Employees of financial institutes are finding themselves in position to answer difficult questions and find harder solutions. They may find themselves in more of an advisor role. They may need to become more knowledgeable about statutory changes and new estate planning options, especially self-help tools, that are available to customers and train their personnel accordingly.
See David B. West, Avoid Probate Court: Head to Your Bank Instead, Lexology, October 4, 2018.