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Lottery winnings may be community property


Richard M. Alderman Interim Dean of the Law Center

Q. I buy lottery tickets every week. If I win the lottery does my spouse have any interest in the money I win?
A. Assuming you purchased the ticket with money you earned while you were married, the lottery winnings would be considered community property, jointly owned by you and your spouse. The major exception would be if you have a premarital agreement saying otherwise.
Q. Can a landlord in Texas require a tenant to pay rent through an automatic withdrawal from his bank account each month?
A. I don’t know of any law in Texas that prohibits a landlord from asking for payment by direct withdrawal, or any other payment form if that is what he wants. A lease is a matter of private contract and consists of the terms agreed to by the landlord and tenant. If you want to pay in a different manner, you have the right to refuse to agree to the landlord’s payment term and propose your own term. If the landlord does not agree, you can refuse to rent and find a different apartment.
Q. If a guardian is appointed for an incapacitated person, what is the authority of a second person holding a durable power of attorney. Is the power of attorney automatically revoked? If not, can the new guardian revoke the power of attorney?
A. The appointment of a guardian automatically terminates any grant of authority given under a power of attorney.
Q. Is it legal for a person to have a dog riding in the bed of a pickup truck? It seems very dangerous.
A. In my opinion, it is not a good idea to let a dog ride untethered in the bed of a pickup and it is very dangerous for the dog. According to the Texas Police Association, it is estimated that at least 100,000 dogs die this way each year. But Texas has no law prohibiting a person from driving a pickup with a dog in the bed of a pickup. Although some cities, such as Austin, have city ordinances prohibiting untethered dogs from riding in the bed of pickup, most, including Houston, do not.
Q. Is an oral lease valid? I want to move early but my landlord says we have a valid lease for a year.
A. This is a question I am often asked, and I think the answer surprises people. An oral lease for a year or less is just as enforceable as a written lease. Of course, the person who is trying to enforce the lease must prove the oral agreement. Maybe you can get the landlord to agree to terminate the lease by forfeiting the security deposit or paying a month’s rent.
Q. I filed a claim in small claims court. I was told that before my trial I would have to mediate the case. What is this? Do I have to do it? How much does it cost?
A. In most small claims courts, before hearing a case the judge will ask the parties to “mediate” their dispute. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that gives the parties an opportunity to work things out before a trial. The mediation is conducted by a trained mediator, and is designed to try and help the parties reach a mutually agreeable settlement. If the parties cannot agree, the matter will proceed to trial. The mediator cannot force the parties to settle. In my opinion, mediation is usually a good idea. It usually does not cost anything, and settling a claim is almost always better than taking the chance on a trial.

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