Over the past five years, a Texas probate judge has approved close to $450,000 in legal fees for a court-appointed guardian and attorney in a case involving the well-being of a 52-year-old disabled man. That money has and will continue to come out of assets left behind by the man’s adopted mother.
Maybe ironically, it is the distribution of those very assets that the case focuses on.
If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is. When the man’s adopted mother passed away, she left a reasonably small estate, but no will. Her only heir was her adopted son, who is mentally disabled.
Following her death, the family claims that they rallied around him, making sure that his future was taken care of. A Texas probate judge saw differently and appointed a guardian to look out for the man’s interests, as well as an attorney to represent him.
For the past five years, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been paid out or allocated, while his future hangs in the balance.
Leaving behind a will would not have allowed the family to avoid probate, but it would have allowed the judge to make informed interpretations as to where the money was supposed to go and, more importantly, how the adopted son was to be cared for.
A trust, also, would have provided some structure for the man’s financial future. The estate could have been pooled into a trust, which would have then paid out set amounts of money over time to cover living expenses.
There are other options, of course. Unfortunately, none of them were utilized.
Estate planning is a long-term safety net. It does require time, money and the willingness to focus on things that won’t likely affect you in the near future. However, when a loved one passes without leaving behind any sort of guideline for the disbursement of assets, the court can spend years, and thousands of dollars, figuring it out.
- Families Lose Estates In Guardianship Battles (The Texas Tribune)