When Family Members Die Without A Will

Under Texas law, when someone passes away without a will, that is referred to as their having died “intestate”.  (The word “intestate” simply means, “without a will.”) 

Texas has laws in place as to how the property is distributed when a family member dies without a will.  These laws make provision for the widow or widower, children of the current and former marriages, and generally makes provision for the bloodline or adopted heirs as to their rightful portions.

One of the first things to do is, of course, a thorough search for a will. Sometimes it’s in a safety deposit box, filing cabinet, or it may even be pre-recorded with the county clerk. 

Should a will not be found, it’s a good idea to determine who should be the “Applicant” to the court in moving the process along to inventory and appraise the estate, deal with creditors and claims, pay taxes and distribute according to the court’s determination of heirship. 

One of the biggest contingencies in this matter, is the value of the estate.  There are laws to address the case of estates less than $75,000, with other qualifications.

For more information, call The Barrera Law Firm at (956) 428-2822 for a free consultation or fill in our online request form.

The Probate Process: What You Need to Know

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Your home and material possessions can be at stake during the probate process. Call The Barrera Law Firm for expert assistance.
The probate process is not well understood by many but can have real effects on those that stand to inherit an estate at the time of a loved one’s death. If you do not plan your estate correctly, your loved ones, such as your dependents and spouse, could be put in a financially constricting situation at the time of your death. Not all estates are subject to the probate process. Living trusts, for example, can be created in order to avoid this process. Knowing about probate and how it can effect your surviving family members at the time of your death is an important part of being able to understand what you need to do in terms of planning your estate.

What is a probate and when is it necessary?

Probate is defined as the court-supervised administration of an estate. It is generally required for those whose estate has a fair market value of more than $100,000. Not included in the estate valued for probate is property that is being transferred to a spouse, trusts, or life insurance or retirement accounts for which there are beneficiaries, defined as those under contractual benefits. Probates are not dependent on whether or not a person created a will.

How long do probate proceedings typically take?

There is no easy answer to this question. The amount of time probate takes depends on the complexities of your estate. Typically, probate takes at least six months to complete, and that is under the best of circumstances. This is because the probate process includes required notices to be served, court hearing to occur and representatives to be appointed. In addition, a minimum of four months is required by law for creditors to present their claims against the estate.

What property is subject to probate proceedings?

The property that is subject to probate proceedings depends on how it is titled, the nature and value of the property and whether or not there is a surviving spouse. Only property for which a person held the title at the time of their death can be subjected to probate. Some people choose to create a living trust in order to put their property into. They then pass the title of their property onto the trust, which is not subject to probate. A good lawyer familiar with probate law, can advise you on the best way to plan your estate to avoid costly and time consuming probate proceedings.

Do inheritors receive income from the estate before the completion of probate proceedings?

While beneficiaries must wait until probate proceedings are complete before receiving the full and legal title to their inheritance, it is possible for them to receive a regular allowance before the proceedings are complete. In many cases, the surviving family members are in need of money from the estate in order to cover their daily expenses as well as expenses associated with the passing of their loved one. A lawyer can assist in petitioning the court for consent for payments for spouses and dependents before probate proceedings are complete.

How Can a Stepfather or Stepmother Adopt a Child in Texas?

Texas law provides that a stepfather or stepmother may be a co-applicant, along with the biological parent, for the termination of parental rights and adoption of a child in Texas.

Termination of parental rights can be achieved through various means that focus on the best interest of the child.  One of the more popularly used means is “failed to support the child for one year.” Another popular method is by agreement and voluntary affidavit to terminate parental rights and consent to adoption.

It is permissible to give rights to certain back child support upon adoption, but the State of Texas may intervene if the child received state benefits. Health support arrears for Medicaid is completely up to the state and often remains as a debt that becomes the asset of the state.

For more information, call The Barrera Law Firm at (956) 428-2822 for a free consultation or fill in our online request form.

Criminal Record Expungement

The Barrera Law Firm serves the entire Rio Grande Valley and offers criminal record expungement in Brownsville, Harlingen, McAllen and beyond. Criminal record expungement is the sealing of criminal records, clearing criminal records so that records of arrest or prosecution that you may have will not be available to prospective employers, loan officers, apartment managers, college admission personnel or other officials.

It is an important service so that you can effectively move on with your life.

Deferred adjudication, which is pleading guilty to an offense, but having the court defer the plea of guilt for a period of months or years as long as the person complies with the conditions of the court will not necessarily protect you in this case. The guilty plea is never entered and they do not have a conviction on their record, however, there is a record of arrest and prosecution.

So do not let chance or a past mistake or even an error with the justice system allow the remainder of your life to be disrupted. Contact us for a free consultation on criminal record expungement.

How do Courts Feel About Separating Siblings in a Custody Battle?

Texas law puts a strong emphasis on keeping families together. Judges are usually reluctant to split the children up, especially when they are young. 

However, judges do take into consideration all circumstances, including whether a sibling is a good or bad influence on the other (for example, whether one of them is abusing drugs or participating in illegal activity). 

Sometimes, the court will allow one child who is, for instance, failing in school, not attending school, or having other behavioral problems to go with the other parent and leave the other siblings behind.  A requirement is that the child be enrolled in a special program or school district equipped for dealing with those issues and where the child will get more supervision and help. 

Other times, there can be a situation where one child is blind, mentally disabled, deaf or has another condition that requires much more attention from a single parent. 

At the end of the day, courts are usually open to maximizing the help to ensure the proper development of the child. However, the courts will almost always want a plan in place to ensure siblings that are separated see each other as often as possible.

For more information, call The Barrera Law Firm at (956) 428-2822 or fill out this form for a free consultation.

I Got a Letter for an AG Conference; Should I Sign an Agreed Court Order Without an Attorney to Advise?

Never, never, never, never ever, go to the Texas Office of the Attorney General’s Office without a lawyer, or without consulting a lawyer first.

Very often there will be important issues that are not addressed relating to geographic limitations on where the child will live, or it will not contain halfway points for pick up and drop off and sometimes much more. Sometimes, child support is calculated in a way that a judge might calculate differently, so it’s fairer.

It is very important that you take your letter from the Attorney General to a competent lawyer and have them assist you.

Make sure to get competent legal representation.  Call The Barrera Law Firm at (956) 428-2822 or fill out this form for a free consultation

Some Sobering Facts About Driving Under the Influence

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Before going to that holiday party, remember the consequences of driving while intoxicated.

December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving prevention month.  And that makes sense: too many out-of-control holiday merrymakers get behind the wheel, unaware that their irresponsible behavior could potentially endanger the lives of those around them.

In all states including Texas, a person with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 is considered legally intoxicated. But it doesn’t take much—just a few drinks for some people depending on such factors as height, weight and gender—for the effects of alcohol to take hold. Consider the following blood alcohol facts:

  • At a BAC of .02, a person experience loss of judgment and has trouble doing two tasks at the same time
  • At .05, he or she will have reduced coordination, a deteriorating ability to track objects and difficulty steering
  • At .08, the individual will have trouble controlling speed and have difficulty reasoning
  • At .10, a person will have greatly slowed reaction times and difficulty keeping a car in one lane
  • At a BAC of .15, she or she will be unable to control a vehicle

The effects of drugs—both legal and illegal—on driving are similar. Like alcohol, drugs also can impair a driver’s motor skills, reaction time and judgment and lead to equally devastating consequences.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), alcohol and/or drugs causes 52% of all fatal accidents on Christmas and 57% on New Year’s Day. When you are on the road this holiday season, stay aware of other drivers especially at night. However, if you or a loved one is involved in a collision with a drunk and/or drugged driver, count on the attorneys at the Barrera Law Firm to help you seek the legal and financial restitution you deserve.

Can Community Property Money be Used to Pay for My Divorce?

In most cases, funds that may be secured through joint bank accounts, credit cards obtained during the marriage, and through the legal pawn of property acquired during the marriage may be used to secure reasonably priced legal services for a divorce.

Often times, it’s critically important a competent attorney is secured to ensure that along with your divorce, a restraining order goes into effect relating to expenditures of community funds, sale or gift of community property, and how the bills get paid while a divorce is pending. Child support and custody is also decided.

Courts also allow one to apply for additional attorney fees if the husband or wife is using a disproportionate share in order to cover their attorney fees. An example of this is when the husband scrapes up $2,500, but wife cashes our her 401k and pays $50,000 in attorney fees. In this event, the husband could apply for $22,250 of that amount or the equal amount, if available, for attorney fees.

Call The Barrera Law Firm at (956) 428-2822 for a free consultation or complete our online form.

Non-Parent and Grandparent Rights and Access in Texas

Has a child been voluntarily left in your care, custody, and control for more than six months? As a grandparent, has your child passed away, and you are no longer able to visit your minor grandchildren? 

These are applicable questions under Texas Law that help establish whether or not non-parent or grandparent custody or visitation may be attempted.

If you qualify, an attorney would be needed to assist in gathering facts and evidence that show the child is safest in your home. 

Sometimes, a social investigation report is in order. Other times, it’s simple, such as the situation where one or both parents are incarcerated, and the child has been under your care, custody and control for more than six months.

Do you need help with a child custody issue?  Call The Barrera Law Firm at (956) 428-2822 or complete our on-line form for a free consultation.

Wrong-Way Crashes in Texas

Wrong-way crashes are the most dangerous because they involve head-on collisions. In Texas, the number of these kinds of accidents has hit all new highs. A recent CBS DFW online article reveals that in 2011, “[t]he Texas Department of Transportation (TDOT) [found] there were 329 wrong-way crashes statewide…[and that] more than half [took place] in Dallas County.”

A  TDOT study conducted in 2010 showed that alcohol was the common denominator in  nearly all of these crashes. According to one TDOT official, about three-quarters of all the drivers involved in wrong-way crashes were under the influence.

The human toll these kinds of accidents take lingers long after the event itself. One woman named Gwen Edwards who lost her son Louis in a wrong-way crash a year a half ago on Interstate 35 still reports her feelings as, “Anger, yes. I still have a lot…[l]osing a child is a lot different than losing a mother, father, sister or brother.” Louis was just 22 years old and was the only one who perished.

Edwards is still grieving for her son. She has since “turned to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for help and says that more needs to be done to protect drivers on the road.” In her view, “[t]he drunk driving laws keep the drivers safer than [they do] the victim. The laws need to be stiffer.”

This coming September, TDOT will begin to research countermeasures against wrong-way driving. “The main goals will be to identify what methods are most successful in getting the attention of impaired drivers, and finding out which countermeasures are most effective and properly orienting the wrong-way driver for alerting them to the fact they’re going the wrong way.”

These countermeasures won’t help you if you’ve recently been in a car accident, particularly one involving a drunk driver and/or wrong-way driving. At the  Barrera Law Firm, we are ready to fight for your rights in a legal system that too often seems to overlook the pain and suffering of car crashes victims. Let us help you get the settlement you deserve: contact us today!