The Year in Review – 2017 Brought About Big Changes in the Law 

2017 was a very busy year in Texas law.

At least twice a year, insurance companies issuing annuity and life insurance contracts must compare their in-force policies with the records of the Death Master File to determine if their insured is dead. If a death is confirmed, then the insurer must make a good faith effort to locate and contact each policy beneficiary. If the insurance company cannot locate beneficiaries, then within 3 years it has to pay the funds it is holding to the Texas Comptroller.

The persistent problem with out-of-network medical claims finally got some attention. Now, the bill must contain, in no less than 10-point boldface type, a conspicuous, plain language explanation of the mediation process and the following statement: “You may be able to reduce some of your out-of-pocket costs for an out-of-network medical or health care claim that is eligible for mediation by contacting the Texas Department of Insurance at tdi.texas.gov and 512-676-6000.”

One probate method, small estate affidavits, may now be used for estates up to $75,000 (up from $50,000).

Being an executor became a bit more difficult and, potentially, costly. An executor who fails to timely file an affidavit of notice to beneficiaries can be removed by the court. An executor who files a false affidavit in lieu of inventory can be fined up to $1,000.

A brand- new law, The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act, limits the ability of the heirs to force the sale of the real property.  Instead, it sets forth a procedure that the heirs must follow to dispose of disputed inherited property.

Guardians -open your mail. The Court can now just send you a notice by certified mail if it wants to remove you as guardian.  You are also required to notify certain relatives if a ward is admitted to an acute care facility for more than 3 days, changes residence, or dies.

The Texas Supreme Court now has to maintain a central database of guardianships. Some of the gathered information must be made available to law enforcement.

Supporters in a supported decision making agreement (this was a new document authorized in 2015) now owe the principal a fiduciary duty.

The law regarding Durable Powers of Attorney changed dramatically, and many of the changes are uniquely Texan. Third parties are now required to accept a POA, with a few exceptions, and principals can give agents “super-powers” that can include the ability to form a trust.

Trusts can now be modified to qualify a distributee for governmental benefits. The trust can also be reformed to prevent waste or impairment, achieve the settlor’s tax objectives or correct a scrivener’s error.

Making life and death a bit simpler in divorce cases, the authority of a spouse upon divorce to act as an agent in a medical power of attorney is revoked.

ALERT – in Texas, the statutory medical power of attorney form is mandatory, and there is a new form effective January 1, 2018.

And then there was the new tax bill…..

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The information contained in this article is general information only and does not constitute legal advice.