Whether you have a will or not, your property will still go through the probate court system. A Transfer on Death Deed conveys property outside of probate, allowing for you to avoid incurring court costs. Also, it excludes real property from Medicaid estate recovery.
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The Transfer on Death Deed does not replace a will. The will may still remain an important part of your estate plan especially if you have special bequests or a large amount of personal property. A Transfer on Death Dead covers only real property, like land and improvements, and conveys property outside of probate which allows you to avoid court costs. It is best if your will and transfer on Death Deed are consistent as to who receives your home and land. If your will and Transfer on Death Deed are inconsistent, the person named in the Transfer on Death Deed, not your will, will own your property after your death.
- If your heirs can decide on who gets furniture, jewelry, clothing, etc., then the courts do not have to be involved with deciding who gets possession of those items.
- If you have stocks or mutual funds, all of the investment houses will allow you to name a beneficiary to receive those investments without going through the courts.
- Similarly, if you have a savings or checking account, you should make sure that it is either a joint account where a surviving heir has access to make deposits and withdrawals during your lifetime, or that it is a POD or “payable on death” account, where you designate a beneficiary who will obtain ownership of the account when you pass away outside of the court system.
If you have a problem with any electric provider you should contact the electric provider first and ask them to fix it.
If you get an answer that you do not like from the customer service line, ask to speak to a supervisor. A supervisory review is a step in the PUC customer complaint procedure. Supervisors should be more knowledgeable about rules and regulations. Supervisors also have the discretion to make decisions that the people answering the phones do not have. If your problem is not fixed through the customer service network file a complaint.
LITE-UP Texas was designed to help you pay your electric bill by providing discounts and other forms of payment assistance. The LITE-UP TEXAS rate discount ended August 31, 2016. See the web site of the Public Utilities Commission for more information about help paying your electric bill if you have a low income.
Under certain circumstances, a regulated electric utility is prohibited from disconnecting a customer. These circumstances include:
- When there is a heat advisory in effect,
- When temperatures are below freezing for more than 24 hours,
- On weekends or holidays or the day immediately preceding where there is no one available to accept payment,
- When the customer establishes that disconnection of service will cause some critical care person residing at the residence to become seriously ill or more seriously ill,
- When the company receives a pledge, letter of intent, purchase order, or other notification that the energy assistance provider is forwarding sufficient payment to continue service.
The best way to prevent disconnection of your electricity is to stay in contact with your electric provider when you have trouble making your payments. Take advantage of available payment assistance, the weatherization program, or other energy efficiency programs that will reduce your usage while maintaining your usual level of comfort and service. Make alternative payment arrangements. Ask for a deferred payment plan and a levelized or average payment plan where you would pay the same amount every month. Most important, make sure you agree only to a deferred payment arrangement you can afford to pay. If you default on the deferred payment plan you will be disconnected.
Bill Payment Assistance - Prepaid Service
Many retail electric providers (REPs) are now offering prepaid service to residential customers. The target market for prepaid service is low-income households. Under a prepaid plan the customer does not receive a monthly bill. It is the customer’s responsibility to monitor the account. It is the REP's responsibility to provide information electronically about the account. Many bill payment assistance programs—including the federally funded program and programs funded by counties—do not provide energy assistance to customers taking prepaid service
Although the collector may not sue you to collect the debt, you still owe it.
The collector can continue to contact you to try to collect, unless you send a letter to the collector demanding that communication stop. Not paying a debt may make it harder, or more expensive, to get credit, insurance, or other services because not paying may lower your credit rating.
Even though the collector may not be able to sue you, you may decide to pay off the debt. Some collectors may be willing to accept less than the amount you owe to settle the debt, either in one large payment or a series of small ones. Make sure you get a signed form or letter from the collector before you make any payment. This document should state that the entire debt is being settled and that the amount to be paid will release you from any further obligation. Without this document, the amount paid may be treated as a partial payment on the debt, instead of a complete payment. Keep a record of the payments you make to pay off the debt.
A pre-bankruptcy counseling session with an approved credit counseling organization should include an evaluation of your personal financial situation, a discussion of alternatives to bankruptcy, and a personal budget plan. A typical counseling session should last about 60 to 90 minutes, and can take place in person, on the phone, or online. The counseling organization is required to provide the counseling for free for people who can’t afford to pay. If you can’t afford to pay a fee for credit counseling, ask for a fee waiver from the counseling organization before the session begins. Otherwise, you may be charged a fee for the counseling. It will generally is about $50, depending on where you live, and the types of services you receive, among other factors. The counseling organization must discuss any fees with you before you start the counseling session.
Bankruptcy is a legal way to give a person in financial trouble a “fresh start.” There are different kinds of bankruptcy. Most people use either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 7 is a liquidation bankruptcy. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the court makes an order saying that certain debts do not have to be paid back. Chapter 13 is a reorganization bankruptcy. It allows a person to make a plan to pay some debts over a period of time. When the payment plan is completed, the remaining debts are discharged.
In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the debtor gives up (liquidates) all his or her non-exempt property. The non-exempt property is sold and the money received is divided among the creditors, (the people to whom the debtor owes money).
The remaining debts are discharged. In other words, the court releases the debtor from paying the remaining debts, and creditors cannot try to collect any debt that was discharged by the bankruptcy court.
Many people only have property that is exempt. When that happens, the debtor keeps all his or her property, and the debts are discharged.
“Exempt” property are the things that cannot be taken away from the debtor to pay back the money owed. “Non-exempt” property are the things that can be taken away from the debtor to pay back money owed. There are lists saying what things are exempt and what are non-exempt under both federal law and Texas law.
In Texas, a person who files a Chapter 7 bankruptcy can choose to use either the Texas or federal exemptions. Texas and federal property exemptions are different. Before choosing which exemptions to use, a debtor has to compare the property he owns to the federal exemption list and the Texas exemption list to see which is better.
First, the debtor has to get credit counseling and then file papers in the federal court asking the court to discharge the debts. The basic steps of a bankruptcy are:
- Counseling and Education: The debtor must go to an approved credit counseling agency within 180 days before filing for bankruptcy. After the filing, the debtor must also attend approved debtor education within 45 days of the “creditors meeting.”
- Filing: The debtor must file papers with the bankruptcy court. Things that have to be filed with the court:
- List of creditors (the people or companies you owe money to);
- Schedule of assets and liabilities (what you owned and what you have to pay);
- Statement of Income and Expenses;
- Statement of Intentions (who you can pay and who you cannot);
- Statement of Financial Affairs (what money you have and what money you do not have);
- Copies of all pay stubs for the 60 days before you filed for bankruptcy;
- Statement of your total monthly income;
- Statement of any changes in your income that you think might happen in the next 12 months;
- Most recent income tax return.
- If you do not file all the required papers within a certain time, the court can dismiss your case.
- Creditors Meeting: You must attend a meeting which may be attended by representatives of the persons and businesses to whom you owe money. The bankruptcy trustee or a court official presides at the meeting.
- Discharge: The court orders that the debts be discharged.
This is a very basic explanation of what happens in a bankruptcy case. Each case is different, and many bankruptcy cases are very complicated.
The “means test,” is a way to force you to pay some of your debts through Chapter 13, rather than wiping out the debts entirely under Chapter 7. The means test is a way of figuring out if a person should be able to pay back some debts. The means test looks at a debtor’s income and property. If the debtor’s income and property are too high, the person cannot file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If a person whose property and income are too high files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the court can dismiss the bankruptcy case or convert it to Chapter 13.
Many Texas seniors qualify for Chapter 7 relief, despite the means test especially if their only source of income is from Social Security. Benefits from the Social Security Administration are not included in the means test calculation
Some debts cannot be wiped out in bankruptcy. That is, they are non-dischargeable. Tax debts, for example, cannot usually be discharged in bankruptcy. The following is a general list of non-dischargeable debts. This list is not specific to your fact situation, and there are some exceptions. To find out whether an item is dischargeable in a particular case, consult with a lawyer. The following may not be dischargeable:
- Debts for “luxury goods” and services owed to a single creditor totaling more than $500 made within 60 days of filing;
- Cash advances in excess of $750 made within 70 days of filing;
- Debts that require timely request for a court’s opinion if a creditor has not been given time to make such a request;
- Debts related to death or injury caused while the debtor was intoxicated;
- Some student loans;
- Debts incurred to pay state and local taxes;
- Debts incurred to pay fines and penalties;
- Unpaid child support or spousal support;
- Homeowner association, condominium, and cooperative fees;
- Fees on prisoners; and
- Pension, profit sharing debts.
- “It is a crime that involves the illegal access and use of an individual’s personal and/or financial information. ID theft can result in financial loss and seriously damage a victim’s credit history, requiring substantial effort to repair. ID theft often sets in motion, or makes a victim more vulnerable, to other types of financial fraud.” [Source]
- Texas Penal Code §32.51 is the section that provides for ID Theft as a crime in Texas. It states that “A person commits an offense if the person, with the intent to harm or defraud another, obtains, possesses, transfers, or uses an item of identifying information of another person without the other person's consent…”
- Remain calm.
- This will be a lengthy and stressful process, but as long as you know you are following a plan, you can increase your chances of solving most, if not all of the problems you face, and increase your chances of recovering as much as the money you have lost as possible.
- Your first step will probably not involve notifying authorities; although that is one of the steps you will likely take.
- Your very first step will be to pull your credit report from all 3 major credit reporting agencies.
- This is free if you have not received a copy of your report in the previous 12 months. In most cases, you can do this online.
- PREPARATION and ORGANIZATION will help you immensely as you navigate through this process. Keep track of your time and expenses with as much documentation and journaling as possible. Start a file, if not several files, so that you can keep your information organized.
- Follow the ID Theft Toolkit on this website to help you through this process.
- Secure your social security number (SSN). Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet or write your number on your checks. Only give out your SSN when absolutely necessary.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, birthdate, social security number, or bank account number) by phone, mail, or online.
- Watch out for “shoulder surfers.” Shield the keypad when typing your passwords on computers and at ATMs.
- Collect mail promptly. Ask the post office to put your mail on hold when you are away from home for several days.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
- Review your receipts. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.
- Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired cards, to prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information.
- Store personal information in a safe place at home and at work.
- Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
- Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess easily. Change your passwords if a company that you do business with has a breach of its databases
- Order your credit report once a year and review to be certain that it doesn't include accounts that you have not opened. Check it more frequently if you suspect someone has gained access to your account information.
- This is often the case. However, this does not necessarily prevent the victim from being able to recover their money. In some cases, organizations, institutions, and even the credit reporting agencies may be liable for some of the damages you have incurred.
- You may want to contact the National Crime Victim Bar Association for a referral to an attorney who can litigate on your behalf. Often times you can find private attorneys that will offer their initial consultations at no cost or obligation.
- The resources available to you are plentiful and growing!
- Resources specific to Texas
- Reporting is important. It will allow you to assert certain rights, it will allow research agencies to more accurately account for how much identity theft is occurring, and where and when and to whom it is occurring, it allows for the sharing of information to other reporting agencies that can protect consumers by working on prevention and detecting fraud.
- That said, sometimes those are the only purposes for reporting. In other words, in many cases, the act of reporting does not cause a case to be opened or an investigation to begin. Therefore, the agency will not have a need to return your call or to follow-up on your report. Managing expectations regarding your claims will help you as you work to clear up all the problems resulting from this criminal act.
A Small (called SEA for short) can be an affordable way to transfer property to a ’s heirs. You may be able to use an SEA to an estate in Texas if you meet all of the requirements set out in the Texas Estates Code Chapter 205. Some of the important requirements include:Affidavit
- The died without a will.
- The left less than $75,000 in property (not including property and exempt property).
- The assets are worth more than the debts. (Note: When calculating the value of the debts and the assets, do not consider any mortgages or debts secured by exempt property as debts and do not consider and exempt property as assets.)
- The only real property owned by the was ’s property, and the real property will be inherited only by person(s) homesteading with the at the time died – ’s surviving and/or minor child(ren) who resided on property with .
- You are able to locate all of the heirs and all of the heirs will sign the Small (or someone with legal authority will sign on their behalf).
- There is no pending application for appointment of a and no has been appointed by a .
- There is no administration needed.
Exempt property includes the following:
for the use and benefit of the 's surviving and minor children; and
- some of the following categories of property, (up to $100,000 for a family or $50,000 for a single adult) for the use and benefit of the ’s surviving and minor children, unmarried adult children remaining with the 's family, and each other adult child who is incapacitated:
- home furnishings, including family heirlooms;
- provisions for consumption;
- farming or ranching vehicles and implements;
- tools, equipment, books, and apparatus, including boats and motor vehicles used in a trade or profession;
- a limited amount of jewelry;
- two firearms;
- athletic and sporting equipment, including bicycles;
- a two-wheeled, three-wheeled, or four-wheeled motor vehicle for each member of a family or single adult who holds a driver's license or who does not hold a driver's license but who relies on another person to operate the vehicle for the benefit of the nonlicensed person;
- certain livestock and food on hand for their consumption; and
- household pets.
Note: Exempt assets also include the’s pension benefits and IRAs. Insurance benefits are also exempt. Determining which property is exempt can be complicated. Talk with a lawyer if you are claiming any property is exempt and you have questions.