Wills and Probate Resource Month - October 2018

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October is Wills and Probate Resource Month at the Harris County Law Library. All month long, you will find materials on wills, estate planning, and probate and trust administration on display in the Law Library and online.

Self-Help Guides from Nolo Press

Nolo’s Plan Your Estate is your go-to estate planning guide. With coverage of common estate planning goals, such as leaving property, providing for minors, planning for incapacity, avoiding probate, and reducing the estate tax, it is a go-to source for easy-to-understand estate planning information. Another useful Nolo resource is Estate Planning Basics. Both of these Nolo titles can be found in our Self-Help Collection in the Law Library. For assistance in finding these guides, please ask a member of the reference staff.

TexasLawHelp Wills & Estate Planning

TexasLawHelp.org is an incredibly useful online legal research tool for the general public. Take a look at their Wills & Estate Planning resources for information about filing a small estate affidavit, a transfer on death deed, or an affidavit of heirship. Also find a link to the Texas Probate Passport, a publication of the Texas Young Lawyer’s Association.

Harris County Law Library Research Guides

Visit our Research Guides page to download a free copy of our Probate, Trusts, and Estates Research Guide. This topical guide helps you quickly find the most practical resources available at the Law Library, including the Texas Probate System, a State Bar of Texas publication, and O’Connor’s Texas Probate Law Handbook (both of which are pictured above).Ask for these and other titles at the Law Library reference desk.

Kincare Forms for Voluntary Non-Parent Caregivers

As summer approaches, requests for information about the supervision of a child by a non-parent caregiver are on the rise. Fortunately, TexasLawHelp.org and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services have the forms and information that grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, and other blood relatives may use to establish their rights as caregivers. These rights, which are put into place as part of the Kincare program*, allow a voluntary non-parent caregiver to enroll a child in school or daycare, make decisions regarding his or her medical well-being, sign school permission slips, and take other steps to ensure the child's welfare and safety.

To learn more about the Kincare program, TexasLawHelp.org is the perfect place to start. Download a copy of the Texas Kincare Primer to find answers to commonly asked questions about the authorization agreement for non-parent or voluntary caregivers.  Also available on TexasLawHelp.org is a form for consent to medical treatment by a non-parent or voluntary caregiver. Take a look at both forms to determine which will best meet your needs and the needs of the child in your care.

As always, if you have any questions about the Kincare program, we recommend that you consult an attorney. The Harris County Law Library partners with the Houston Volunteer Lawyers, who provide free legal assistance for this or any civil legal concern five days a week in the basement at 1019 Congress. Volunteer lawyers are available Monday through Friday from 9:00 am - 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm on a first-come, first-served basis.

*Please note that the Kincare program is different from the Kinship Care program, which is designed for children in CPS care. For information about the Kinship Care program, please visit the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services website. 


Access to Justice – Transfer on Death Deed

Chapter 114 of the Texas Estates Code authorizes an owner of real property to designate a beneficiary to whom that property will pass upon the owner’s death. This process alleviates the expense that the beneficiary would otherwise have had to bear if the property had passed through the probate process. This alternative to probate is called a transfer on death deed. Executed by the property owner during his lifetime, the deed is a non-testamentary instrument that is freely revocable should the property owner change his mind regarding the primary or alternate beneficiaries named in the deed. To be effective, the transfer on death deed must state that the transfer of real property is to occur at the property owner’s death and must be recorded with the county clerk in the county in which the property is located prior to the death of the transferor. Once the deed is in effect, a will may not supersede the validly executed deed. In other words, if a will names a different individual as beneficiary, the property will go to the individual designated in the transfer on death deed, not the one named in the will.

TexasLawHelp.org has a packet on its website with information about and instructions and forms for the transfer on death deeds. There are links to forms and instructions for property owners who want to transfer real property using the transfer on death deed, for property owners who want to revoke a prior transfer on death deed, and for beneficiaries who want to know what needs to be done to acquire title to the property named in the deed.

There are more alternatives to probate that have been proposed. There are two bills before the current legislative session (SB 869 and HB 1753) that, if passed, would enable an owner to transfer his interest in a vehicle to a designated beneficiary, thereby allowing the vehicle to pass outside of probate. The Texas Access to Justice Commission, one of the champions of the need for low-income Texans to have equal access to the civil judicial system, is supporting this legislation.

Access to Justice: Supported Decision-Making Agreements


With the passage of HB 39 and SB 1881 by the 84th Legislature, Texas became the first state to enact legislation allowing individuals with an intellectual/developmental disability (I/DD) greater autonomy in the making of personal decisions while still retaining their rights. Prior to the passage of the Supported Decision-Making Agreement Act (codified at Tex. Estates Code ch. 1357), individuals with an I/DD were forced to relinquish their rights, and all decisions were then made by the person appointed as guardian, including such choices as where to live, where to work, and which doctors to use. The Act's stated purpose is to provide a less restrictive alternative to guardianship for those adults who require assistance with day-to-day decisions but who are not considered incapacitated for guardianship purposes. Under the Act, an individual with an I/DD may appoint a caregiver to assist the individual with making decisions, including helping the individual understand any consequences of the decision, collecting relevant information to aid in the making of the decision, and assisting with the communication of the individual’s wishes. Note that the agreement may be terminated at any time by either party.

 TexasLawHelp.org, a program of the Texas Legal Services Center, has made available on its website a free Supported Decision-Making Agreement. With this form, a person with an I/DD is able to choose a trusted caregiver, referred to as a “supporter,” to assist with the making of the decisions indicated by the individual. The form specifically states that the supporter does not make the decisions for the individual and allows the individual to identify the types of decisions for which he/she needs the assistance of the supporter.

In connection with the Supported Decision-Making Agreement form, TexasLawHelp.org provides an additional form: an authorization to release confidential information under a supported decision-making agreement. This form allows the supporter to obtain information about the individual with an I/DD that would have been private and otherwise protected.