When you marry and start a family, you’re responsible for more than just yourself. Creating an estate plan ensures that your loved ones will be provided for after your death.
Your estate plan, not the courts, will determine how your assets are divided.
If you’re looking for help with estate planning in Texas, Wood Edwards LLP can guide you through the process. Our attorneys offer personal attention to determine the most efficient approach to planning your estate. We offer flat fees and only prepare the documents that are right for you.
You can take care of everything from the comfort of your home through online meetings and payments. We’ll start by explaining the six essential Texas estate planning documents every adult needs.
What Texas Estate Planning Documents Do I Need?
An estate plan is a set of legal documents explaining your wishes for your healthcare, finances, and property. These documents help your family make important decisions if you are incapacitated and can’t do so yourself. They also help your family know what you want to happen with your property and assets after you die.
While you can verbally tell your family what you want, estate planning documents have legal weight and can be enforced in court. Let’s review those documents now.
1. A Written Will
When someone passes away, their property must go to someone who is still alive. Your will says who will get your property and specifies how your family and loved ones will be financially cared for. You can also use a will to appoint a guardian to care for your minor children.
With some exceptions, all of your property and assets go into your estate at your death. When you have a will, your designated executor must deliver your will to the probate court and ask the probate court to accept the will and authorize your executor to manage your estate. If the probate court accepts the will, your executor will be authorized to pay your funeral expenses and other creditors and distribute your assets to the beneficiaries you name in your will.
If a person dies without a will, property is distributed according to the laws contained in the Texas Estates Code known as intestate succession laws. The results can be unexpected. Here are some examples:
- A and B marry but do not have children. A and B live in a house that A owned before marriage. A dies. A’s parents are living. Under Texas law, B gets half of A’s house, and A’s parents each get one-fourth of A’s house.
- A and B marry and buy a house during their marriage. A has a child from a prior marriage. A dies. Under Texas law, A’s child gets half of the house, while B retains the other half.
Having a will in place prevents stress to those already grieving by eliminating complications that can arise without an estate plan in place.
2. Texas Statutory Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney is a form that allows you to appoint someone to manage all of your personal affairs, except for healthcare, in case you become unable to do so yourself. Choosing someone for this job in advance saves your family from fighting over these decisions and worrying about how to access your bank accounts during an emergency.
The person you appoint can handle a wide range of legal and business transactions, including:
- Buying and selling real estate and other property;
- Managing your bank accounts and investments;
- Paying your bills;
- Submitting your tax returns; and
- Applying for government aid.
A durable power of attorney allows the person you name to act quickly in case of an emergency and saves the time and legal expense of having to obtain a court-approved guardianship.
Working with an estate planning attorney ensures that you use the form created by the Texas Legislature, known as the Texas statutory power of attorney, and that you complete it correctly. The Texas statutory durable of attorney form comes with certain legal protections and is given more legal deference than general forms that people find on the internet.
3. Medical Power of Attorney
A medical power of attorney, sometimes called a healthcare proxy, names a person who will make medical decisions for you if you are unable to. This person must carry out your wishes, or, if they don’t know what your wishes are, act in your best interests. Choosing someone in advance saves those closest to you from the trouble of deciding who should make these decisions for you in an emergency when time is critical. If you are unmarried, it also helps your medical team understand who has the right to make decisions for you.
4. Directive to Physicians
A directive to physicians, also known as a living will, documents your wishes regarding end-of-life medical treatment if you suffer a terminal illness or irreversible condition. You can state whether you want artificially life-prolonging measures, or whether you want all care withheld other than what is necessary to keep you comfortable.
5. HIPAA Authorization
A HIPAA Authorization appoints a person to obtain your medical records if you are unable to request them yourself. This can be important if you need care from a specialist, and that specialist wants records from your primary care doctor or from hospitals where you have received care in the past.
6. Beneficiary Designations
When you prepare your estate plan, you must also consider assets that your will cannot transfer, like 401(k)s, IRAs, pensions, mutual fund accounts, and life insurance policies. These assets are governed by contracts that require you to designate a person to receive the asset at your death, known as a beneficiary. Distributions of money from these assets are considered nontestamentary, meaning that they don’t go through the probate court process. The terms of your will cannot change the people you name as beneficiaries of these assets.
When you prepare your first will or update an existing will, you should make sure that the beneficiaries you have designated for these assets match your wishes. Many people open their accounts when they are young and name their parents as beneficiaries. Changing your beneficiary designations when you get married is vital so that your spouse can access the funds in the event of your death.
You should also update your beneficiary designations if a person you previously designated has passed away, or if you go through a divorce and your former spouse was your named beneficiary.
If the asset is an employee benefit, the forms used to update your beneficiary designations are typically available upon request from your company’s HR department or plan administrator.
Wood Edwards: Simplified Estate Planning in Texas
You shouldn’t leave your plans for the future up to chance. Our experienced estate planning lawyers will get to know you and your goals so that you can be sure your family is cared for in an emergency or at your death. Contact us today so we can get started on helping you secure your family’s future.