For many adults, paying proper attention to estate planning proper is virtually essential because addressing it allows your loved ones to sidestep expensive, protracted legal procedures and helps ensure that your final wishes are followed. Most states have enacted similar statutes, though Texas law does differ somewhat in its details.

Compiling a will

Your will documents how you want your real and personal property distributed after your departure. The document should make arrangements for care and guardianship if you parent minor children. Your will should designate an executor, a trusted individual who will be legally responsible for ensuring that debts are paid and assets are distributed.

Generally, two witnesses are required for a valid will. However, Texas law includes provisions for unwitnessed holographic, or handwritten, wills, though they often take longer to validate because a judge must verify the signature. In fact, the state permits wills without handwritten signatures, as well as spoken wills to bequeath personal property.

You are not required to hire an attorney, but having one thoroughly review the will can ensure that the document is legally defensible and correctly written so that it accomplishes your intentions.

Probate

Even if you do formulate a will, your estate might have to go through probate to ensure that debts and taxes are settled, money owed the estate is collected and assets are distributed, though it is possible to avoid the process in Texas if all property passes to a spouse or if it already has been distributed via trusts, property transfers, joint ownership or payable on death accounts. Estates worth less than $50,000 do not have to be probated, either.

Power of attorney

Granting power of attorney to an individual enables that person to address your personal and business affairs if you are incapable of handling them so, though how much power to permit is a discretionary matter. The power of attorney document can limit your appointee to transacting everyday financial matters such as banking and bills or allow broad authority such as disposing of or purchasing assets. No matter which you choose, you should make sure that you and your appointee thoroughly discuss the overarching philosophy you adhere to when conducting business. Additionally, you can craft a medical power of attorney that will allow an appointee to make health care decisions if you cannot.

Health care decisions

There is a legal mechanism to ensure that you receive the medical care you desire, and no treatment beyond that, if you are unable to make your wishes known. Texas recognizes two types of documents in such situations: Advance directives outline what type of medical measures you desire and under what circumstances, while a health care proxy appoints someone to make decisions if you are unconscious or comatose.

Funeral arrangements

Using a will or letter of final instructions allows you to specify your final wishes—perhaps you do not desire funeral services or maybe you wish to be cremated. If you have registered as an organ donor, be sure that loved ones are aware of your decision. Prepaid funeral arrangements can assist survivors financially, but complications crop up if the mortuary has ceased operations or payments have not accounted for inflation. Consider a trust instead.

Other considerations

Addressing estate tax minimization will not be necessary unless your assets are valued at more than than $5 million. If you are the owner of even a small business, creating a succession plan will facilitate continuing smooth operations after your death. A life insurance policy can allow a surviving spouse financial breathing room—placing the life insurance in a trust will help avoid taxes. You can ensure that your pets are cared for in your will as well.

This article provides a general overview of estate planning. Contact an estate planning lawyer in Texas to address any concerns regarding a specific situation.

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