Houston Estate Planning Attorney

Carole Anne Chamberlain

Attorney Carole Anne Chamberlain has been practicing law since 1991, first in Massachusetts after graduating from the University of Houston Law Center. She has maintained her law office in Houston as a sole proprietorship since 1998.

Estate Planning


A will: What is it?
A legal writing in which a living person disposes of his property after death.  The instrument can be revoked during the person's lifetime.  It can also be modified by codicil.  A codicil is a legal instrument which supplements, modifies or adds to a will.  A will which is properly signed and executed is probated by a process which begins with an Application to Probate a Will.  It is the means by which title to property is transferred.

Why is a will necessary?
Without a properly executed will which complies with Texas statutory requirements, title to property cannot be transferred.  Without transfer of title to property, the "heir" or "beneficiary" cannot put title of the property, in his or her own name.  It is the mechanism for claiming ownership or interest in the property disposed of by the deceased person.

Probating a will is a relatively simple and inexpensive procedure.

Without a will, the other mechanism for transferring title or claiming ownership of a dead person's real estate or personal property is through an heirship proceeding. This process can be time consuming and costly. The Texas statue which governs heirship proceedings is a process where the Court "may determine and declare in the manner hereinafter provided who are heirs and only heirs of such decedent, and their respective shares and interests, under the laws of this State..."

An additional mechanism for transferring title or claiming interest in a deceased's estate is through a small estate affidavit.  Generally this applies where the assets are not more than $50,000.00.

Applying to the Court to Declare an Heirship (this is, to make a legal determination as to who are the proper heirs and what their respective shares are) is a more complicated, time consuming and expensive process. It can easily be avoided by writing a properly executed will according to the laws of Texas.

Other important estate planning legal documents include:

Durable power of attorney:
This document authorizes another individual to act as the author's agent.  The power of the agent to act dies at the time as the author who granted the power of attorney.  The power of attorney is an essential document and allows the "agent" to step in the shoes of the person granting the power of attorney to act in his/her behalf.  The power of attorney can either be specific or generalized and is valid until revocation or death.  This document basically allows the "appointed agent" to manage the author's financial affairs, either in that person's absence or incapacity.

Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates
This is a legal document also known as an advanced directive.  Its purpose is to clarify your wishes regarding future medical treatment, usually in the form of "life-sustaining treatment" for terminal or irreversible conditions, caused by illness or injury.  Although not pleasant to think about, this is a very important document which removes any doubt for your family as to your preferences regarding extraordinary medical procedures and quality of life issues.

Medical power of attorney:
This legal document should be executed in conjunction with the Directive to Physicians and Family.  It allows the agent to make health care decisions for the document's author, taking into account any special instructions provided in the Directive.  It usually becomes effective when the person is no longer able to make his/her own medical board treatment decisions.

This acronym stands for Health Information Portability and Accountability Act
Under federal law, HIPAA protects the privacy of personal heallth information.  A HIPAA release allows disclosure of that information by a treatment provider to your designated agent so that he/she may carry out your health care instructions.    


LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The following information is not intended to replace legal advice from an attorney.  The definitions of legal terms discussed are simple explanations and are not intended to replace legal advice from an attorney.