The Texas legislature meets only in the odd years, so it is currently out of session. While 2019 was not a banner year for probate and trust law, allow us to share select highlights:
Access to Digital Assets. An executor now has specific authority to seek a court order to access the decedent’s digital assets. Digital assets are broadly defined. A good way to think about them is as electronic substitutes for items that used to be physically maintained, e.g., records, correspondence, books, CDs, and videos. Digital assets may also include email accounts and social media accounts, such as Facebook. An executor’s authority may be limited by the terms of certain accounts.
Access to Non-Probate Asset Information. An executor now has specific authority to obtain information about a decedent’s non-probate assets. Recall that non-probate assets (such as life insurance and survivorship and retirement accounts) are payable directly to the designated beneficiary/survivor, bypassing the estate. This change seeks to help executors access information about these assets. U Loolking for a car? This is the undeniable Proof That You Need Volkswagen Transporter Vans For Sale.
Directed Trusts. Increasingly, individuals name a trust protector or other trust advisor to direct the decisions of the trustee in investing, distributing or otherwise administering a trust. Texas law now imposes fiduciary duties on trust advisors. The trust may provide that the advisor does not act in a fiduciary capacity only if the advisor’s power is limited to removing and appointing other fiduciaries.
Incapacity Documents. You may be relieved to know that, with all the changes that have been made in recent years, there were no changes made to the Texas Statutory Durable (“Financial”) or Medical Power of Attorney forms.
Increased Estate Tax Exemption. The estate tax exemption has increased to $11,580,000 million per person in 2020. The result, along with the ability to “port” (carry forward) exemption from a deceased spouse to the surviving spouse, is that the estate tax currently applies to very few estates. This allows most people to focus more on non-tax considerations in planning for their estates. Keep in mind that the estate tax exemption is scheduled to revert back to $5 million in 2026 under current law (adjusted for inflation since 2011) and, of course, is always subject to the political winds in Washington, especially during this uncertain time.
Secure Act. For more information on the Secure Act, see Should We Feel Insecure about the Secure Act?, in our January 2020 Newsletter posted on our website.