Proper end-of-life planning can be essential to enable not just a transfer of assets that is simple and hassle free, but also to ensure that the money you carefully save benefits your loved ones as you originally intended. Recent changes in the law have greatly streamlined the planning necessary to move assets upon death to our beneficiaries, and many of those with more dated wills are surprised to find that their intricate estate planning binders are over complicated and out of date. A skilled estate-planning attorney will help you navigate this new legal landscape and manage your portfolio of assets, whether big or small.
NOTE: Not certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization
Wills are not just for the super-rich or the elderly. With relatively minimal expense and hassle, even a simple will can provide for the safekeeping and transfer of family heirlooms, real estate, personal property, and most financial accounts. A Will may also provide a vehicle to protect your assets meant for minor children, until they are old enough to handle them responsibly. A will can detail any specific or broad end-of-life decisions you may have, including a burial, cremation, memorial service, or informal gathering. Lastly, in our increasingly electronic world, your will can manage your online footprint to close out accounts, or otherwise handle this sensitive material.
Powers of Attorney
As the average lifespan increases, our needs and those of our parents and grandparents extend far later in life. Often times we live beyond our capacity to legally handle our own affairs. There are a variety of causes that can unexpectedly take away our ability to manage our lives that do not involve the loss of life. Whether it be old age, mental disease, illness, or traumatic injury, for many of us there will come a time where we must rely on our family and friends to handle our medical, personal and business decisions. A statutory durable power of attorney and a medical power of attorney along with a HIPPA release can facilitate the transfer of essential decision-making power to a trusted friend or family member, without the need for court involvement.
Directive to Physicians (Living Will)
The discussion regarding how long and to what extent we use medical technology to artificially prolong our life is a difficult one and answers to these questions can be highly personal and strongly held. Unfortunately, for most of us, we delay this decision-making until such a time when we are incapacitated and unable to communicate our wishes with our doctor and family. A directive to physician, otherwise known as a living will, is an opportunity to make your position known in advance. Absent this essential document, this decision may be left to a medical power of attorney, guardian, or even the courts, and it has the very real potential to tear families apart at a time when togetherness is most important.
From a technical standpoint, probate is the legal proceeding at which a court is formally informed that someone has died and that the deceased-owned property needs to be administered. For many of us, probate has a negative connotation and is associated with protracted legal battles involving families and friends fighting in court over assets of the deceased. However, in Texas, this negative reputation is not as founded. For those who spend a little time setting up their estate and estate planning documents prior to their death, the probate process can be surprisingly simple and brief. Even for those who did not plan ahead, as long as their estate or family is relatively limited and all beneficiaries can agree on what to do with a deceased family member’s estate, probate can also be completed with relative ease. On the other hand, if a will contest or a dispute over the estate appears unavoidable, this can indeed become a very complex intricate area of law. Whether you need to file a deceased’s will and death certificate along with a request for letters testamentary and independent estate administration or you are faced with a contested scenario, the assistance of legal counsel can be essential.
There are wide variety of trusts that an individual may decide to implement in the handling of their estate, or in setting rules and directions for the handling of their property should they become incapacitated. Whether it be for tax reasons, asset protection, creditor protection, or simply to set aside funds for children’s education, trusts can be a crucial tool in estate planning. For some simple trusts, working with an attorney alone is sufficient. However, trusts used to accomplish more complex ends may require that the attorney work with a team of professionals including wealth managers and tax advisors.
As the life expectancies increase, the younger generations are more often left to handle their parent’s matters. If a loved one has not had the appropriate documents executed that allow for decision-making power to be exercised by another, a request for guardianship may become necessary. Suits for guardianship are a request for a court granting a person, often a trusted relative, the ability to handle the personal, medical, and business affairs of another. Many people encounter this area of law as they try to take control of an aging relative’s affairs but may also be necessary earlier in life, if an unexpected event incapacitates a friend or family member.