Planning for the financial future of your family is likely not a topic you like to think about. Neither is addressing the complex legal issues related to a loved one’s passing. Addressing these issues with the assistance of a compassionate attorney reduces the confusion, worry and stress you feel when managing these complicated matters. Don Carnes works diligently to provide the guidance and information Austin area families need, to address a number of legal issues, including:

Estate Planning

Every adult should have at least the basic estate planning documents: a will or revocable trust to distribute your property at your death, powers of attorney so you can designate who will make decisions for you if you are incapacitated, and a directive to physicians (a “living will”). Wills can be simple or complicated, but should always be tailored to match your situation and wishes. In addition, there are other assets that may pass on your death by other means, such as retirement accounts or life insurance policies that have beneficiary designations, and accounts that pass by right of survivorship or “pay of death” designation. The estate tax affects only a very small minority of people, because of the significant exemptions form the tax, but for larger estates some tax planning is essential.

Every estate plan should be designed to fit your needs and your wishes. Don takes the time to get to know you and your situation, and talk to you about options before drafting documents.

Many of his clients have family-owned businesses, and much of their planning includes integrating their business concerns into their planning, as well as assisting with entities, contracts, real estate and other business matters, from formation of an entity to sale of an existing enterprise.

Probate Law

“Probate” is a term used to describe the transition of ownership of property at death. For most, that involves a simple court hearing to admit a will to probate and appoint an executor. For those who die without a will, the proceeding is called a “determination of heirship” and is more complicated. In either case, you will need an attorney to file the correct pleadings, assist you through the hearing, and guide the executor or administrator through the required notices, filings and steps to administer the estate. For independent administrations, which are created by the will or by consent of all heirs, the process is easier but the executor or administrator will still need to give notices, prepare an inventory and distribute property. The process for a dependent administration is similar, but is court-supervised and all steps are more formalized and generally require court approval. Even if all of the decedent’s property is in a revocable trust and there’s no court proceeding, the successor trustee should still hire counsel to be sure that all of the property is properly transferred.

Don has helped families through this difficult time for over three decades, from simple probate proceedings to difficult, complicated (and sometimes contentious) estates. His goal is to make each probate as simple, smooth and inexpensive as possible.


It is never easy caring for an incapacitated family member or loved one. If you are not that person’s agent under a power of attorney, then you will need to bet authority to act on their behalf and make decisions for them under a guardianship. A guardianship is a court proceeding, with special rule and procedures, and attorneys in a guardianship proceeding need special training and certification. Even after a guardian is appointed, the guardian remains subject to court supervision and will continue to need legal representation.

Don has handled hundreds of guardianships, both as the attorney for the guardian and in frequent court-appointed roles representing the incapacitated person or as a “guardian ad litem” to assist the judge in determining what outcome is in the best interests of the incapacitated person. Many guardianship proceedings are relatively simple, such as parents seeking guardianship of a developmentally disabled 18 year-old child, but unfortunately others can be a complex combination of competing interests, challenging diagnoses, family conflict and complex laws.