Your estate is comprised of everything you own at the time of your death. An estate consists of both real and personal property. Real property for most people is their house but also includes any other land, buildings, oil, gas and other minerals owned by the decedent. Personal property is everything else, including cash and bank accounts, clothing and personal effects, furniture, motor vehicles, stocks and bonds, life insurance policies, and government, retirement or employee benefits.
You can’t take it with you.
No matter how large or how modest, everyone has an estate and something in common—you can’t take it with you when you die. To ensure your wishes are carried out, you need to provide instructions stating whom you want to receive something of yours, what you want them to receive, and when they are to receive it. That is estate planning—making a plan in advance and naming whom you want to receive the things you own after you die.
Estate planning is for everyone.
It is not just for “retired” people, although people do tend to think about it more as they get older. Estate planning is not just for “the wealthy,” either, although people who have built some wealth do often think more about how to preserve it. Good estate planning often means more to families with modest assets, because they can afford to lose the least.
An estate plan begins with a Will or Trust.
A Will provides your instructions, but it does not avoid probate. Any assets titled in your name or directed by your will must go through the Texas probate process before they can be distributed to your heirs. (If you own property in other states, your family will probably face multiple probates, each one according to the laws in that state.) Not everything you own will go through probate. Assets that let you name a beneficiary (for example, life insurance, IRAs, 401(k)s, annuities) are not controlled by your will and usually will transfer to the new owner or beneficiary without probate.
Sometime a revocable Living Trust is preferred by many families. It can avoid probate at death (including multiple probates if you own property in other states), prevent court control of assets at incapacity, bring all of your assets (even those with beneficiary designations) together into one plan, provide maximum privacy, is valid in every state, and can be changed by you at any time. It can also reflect your love and values to your family and future generations. Unlike a will, a trust doesn’t have to die with you. Assets can stay in your trust, managed by the trustee you selected, until your beneficiaries reach the age you want them to inherit. Your trust can continue longer to provide for a loved one with special needs, or to protect the assets from beneficiaries’ creditors, spouses, and irresponsible spending.
Additional estate planning documents.
Living Will – In addition to a carefully drafted Will or Trust, it is advisable to have a Directive to Physicians and Family (also known as a “Living Will”, “Advance Directive” or “Medical Directive”) prepared by an experienced attorney. Texas law allows any competent adult, by signing a Directive to Physicians to instruct his or her physician to its wishes, which may be to withhold or withdraw artificial life-sustaining procedures in the event of a terminal or irreversible condition. If you desire that your life not be artificially prolonged in the event of a terminal illness, you should consult with an attorney to have an Advance Healthcare Directive prepared for you.
Powers of Attorney – A power of attorney is an instrument by which one person (the principal) grants to another (the agent) the power to perform certain acts on his or her behalf. Two types of powers of attorney are common in the estate planning field, namely the medical power of attorney and the durable power of attorney. The medical power of attorney grants the agent the power to make health care decisions for the principal if he or she is unable to make them. The durable power of attorney grants authority to a designated agent to manage the principal’s property on his or her behalf. The principal can elect to have the power of attorney become effective immediately upon signing it, or only upon the principal’s future disability or incapacity. The forms of both the medical power of attorney and durable power of attorney are prescribed by statute. You should consult an attorney if you desire to have either of these documents prepared for you.
Additional documents may be necessary depending on the person’s individualized goals and future needs for his or her family. An experienced attorney at Marina Legal Group will be able to provide critical guidance and peace of mind that your documents are prepared properly.
The best time to plan your estate is now.
None of us really likes to think about our own mortality or the possibility of being unable to make decisions for ourselves. This is exactly why so many families are caught off-guard and unprepared when incapacity or death does strike. Don’t wait. You can put something in place now and change it later…which is exactly the way estate planning should be done. Knowing you have a properly prepared plan in place – one that contains your instructions and will protect your family – will give you and your family peace of mind. This is one of the most thoughtful and considerate things you can do for yourself and for those you love.
Contact a Dallas estate planning lawyer from Marina Legal Group for professional legal assistance with your estate plan.