Basic estate planning doesn’t have to be a complex process for most people. There are four standard estate planning documents that fulfill the needs of most individuals and families:

1. Will - names as executor the person you choose to administer your estate and provides him with instructions, specifies who inherits your assets, appoints a guardian for your minor children, and sets up trusts for minor children and for others if appropriate.

2. Statutory Durable Power of Attorney - appoints someone to handle your financial matters. You can choose whether to authorize someone to act while you are capable of acting or only authorize them to act if you become incapacitated. You can also revoke it at any time. The person is authorized to act without having to go to court to be appointed as the guardian of your estate, which would require the court to continue to monitor and approve his actions. What if you don’t have a power of attorney?

3. Power of Attorney for Healthcare - appoints someone to make healthcare decisions for you if you become incapacitated. As long as you are capable of making your own decisions, this does not go into effect. This avoids the need for family members to go to court to be appointed your guardian of your person. What if you don’t have a Power of Attorney for Healthcare?

4. Directive to Physicians (Living Will) - instructs your physician about measures you do or do not want taken if you have a terminal condition, such as whether you would want life support terminated if there is no chance of recovery.

You may also wish to have a HIPAA Authorization, by which you authorize the release of medical records to a designated person. Under federal law this is not required to release medical information to the person you have named as your agent under a Power of Attorney for Healthcare.

Additionally, we will discuss with you how you can coordinate non-probate assets such as beneficiary designations on various accounts, insurance policies, and retirement plans, with your will. These assets pass directly to the beneficiary on record with the financial institution regardless of who your will says should inherit them. We will also provide you with a form to inventory your assets to help your family and your executor locate them.

For a more complicated estate, we may also suggest some of the following documents:

  • Living Revocable Trust – not as beneficial or cost-effective in Texas as in states with more expensive and complicated probate procedures. However, a trust may make sense if you own property in another state or if you fear someone will dispute your will.
  • Special Needs Trusts for disabled family members
  • Charitable trusts
  • Insurance trusts
  • Other trusts to avoid or delay taxes if your estate is large.