Teresa McUsic

People’s Law School offers information on family and consumer law

The People’s Law School offer sessions on various family and consumer law topics, designed to keep people out of court.
The People’s Law School offer sessions on various family and consumer law topics, designed to keep people out of court. Star-Telegram/Amy Peterson

Recent changes in family law concerning divorce and probate of property are timely topics in the 13th annual People’s Law School on April 2.

Sponsored by the Tarrant County Bar Association and its foundation, the People’s Law School is a free, half-day of seminars covering a wide range of principally family and consumer law topics. It’s taught by local attorneys and open to the public.

The school has nine sessions this year. Attendees can pick up to three of the 50-minute sessions.

The session on wills and probate fill up first, said Steve Cacanower, a Fort Worth attorney and chairman of this year’s school. Overall, he expects up to 300 people to attend.

“This year we also will cover changes the Texas Legislature made for ways to avoid probate, including Transfer on Death deeds,” he said.

Passed in the last legislative session and effective for the first time last September, Transfer on Death deeds simplify the process for transferring property to a named beneficiary without having to go through probate court.

“It’s designed to save people the money and hassle of having to go through probate,” said Dorcas “Dori” Grubaugh, a Grapevine attorney who will handle the session, How to Avoid Probate. “I think it will affect a lot of people. With the elderly, the house is often about all they have left.”

A Transfer on Death Deed must be signed, notarized and recorded in the deed records of the county where the property is located before the death of the grantor. The deed does not go into effect until the property owner dies, and it can be revoked if the property owner wishes.

The property owner still has the same rights while still alive, such as getting a property tax exemption, using it as collateral on a loan or selling the property.

The Texas Access to Justice Commission has a do-it-yourself Transfer on Death Deed kit online that includes the forms and instructions for completing the deeds, a revocation form and an affidavit of death that must be filed when the property owner dies. The kit is available at www.TexasLawHelp.org.

Other ways to avoid probate to be discussed by Grubaugh include setting up pay-on-death accounts for bank accounts and making sure that insurance and retirement accounts have the correct beneficiaries in place.

Fort Worth attorney Rusty Russell will discuss family law and where to find do-it-yourself forms for a small estate affidavit and a simple divorce.

Available for several years through another change in Texas law, the small estate affidavit is another way to avoid probate, Russell said.

“It is designed for estates no greater than $50,000,” he said.

An attorney must still file the small estate affidavit, and it must not be filed until at least 30 days after the death, Russell said. Also, the deceased must not have had a will.

Russell estimated that the cost of filling out the form and filing would be less than 10 percent of the cost of going through probate.

“In a small estate, the attorney and court fees could chew up so much of the estate,” he said. “This is less expensive and so much quicker.”

Russell also will discuss the simple divorce option in Texas.

“It’s for marriages with no children or real property,” he said. “It’s especially good for short-term marriages that last just a few months.”

No lawyer is necessary to fill out the form, but Russell recommends one.

“A person with a sixth-grade education level can muddle his way through it, but it can be confusing,” he said. “The average person is better off with legal help.”

In his session, Russell will show where to find the forms and how to fill them out, in addition to taking questions. He said his primary resources will be the Texas State Law Library at www.sll.texas.gov and TexasLawHelp.org.

The Tarrant County Bar asks that you register for The People’s Law School so they will have enough materials and space available for the classes.

The bar association offers two other services to the public. One is Legal Line, a free call-in service from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of each month. Callers will receive free legal advice by calling 817-335-1239.

Also, the bar association has a lawyer referral service that provides 30 minutes of consultation for $20. The referral service can be reached at 817-336-4101, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.to 4:30 p.m.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net

The People’s Law School

  • When: 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, April 2, three sessions
  • Cost: Free. Registration at www.tarrantbar.org. Walk-ins welcome
  • Where: Texas A&M School of Law, 1515 Commerce St., Fort Worth
  • Topics: Wills and Trusts, Do-it-Yourself Family Law, Veterans Issues, Probate and Guardianship, Divorce and Grandparents’ Rights, Social Security and Medicaid, How to Avoid Probate, Landlord/Tenant, Consumer Law