An Introductory Guide To Wills and Estate Planning

By Cindy R.

No matter how much money you have it is important to have a basic estate plan to protect your family and your assets after your death. An estate plan can be as simple as a last will and testament to extremely detailed to contain a power of attorney, a living will and even a trust. We'll cover each of these tools in order.

A will is the first place to start your estate plan. You need to create a list of all of your assets and determine who you would like to receive those assets after your death. Your will is the legal document that lists your assets and who is to receive them. When drafting your will pay special attention to the probate laws of Texas to ensure that your will can be validated in probate court. If your will is disallowed then your property will be distributed without your will and according to Texas probate law. This is not something you want to take the chance of messing up so enlisting the aid of an estate planning attorney is a smart move. They can usually assist you for a reasonable fee.

Power of Attorney - A power of attorney is a legal document that authorizes somebody to act on your behalf in legal or business matters. A durable power of attorney is a special kind that allows the rights granted to be effective if you become incapacitated due to injury or mental illness. Durable powers of attorney can by financial and medical in nature. A Health Care Power of Attorney is a durable power of attorney that authorizes the appointed agent to make health care decisions for up. The authorization can include the ability to stop life sustaining medical support if it is keeping a terminally ill patient alive.

A living will goes hand in hand with a medical power of attorney. A living will states your intentions regarding health care if you are not capable in do so for yourself due to a future incapacity. The living will states WHAT you want done in specific situations and the health care power of attorney authorizes somebody to follow through on your wishes. These two documents are complicated enough that most are crafted by professional estate attorneys.

Next we are going to cover Trusts. Trusts are another vehicle that allows you to direct certain types of property with the added benefit that you can place restrictions and requirements on the assets. One of the most significant advantages of trusts is that there is no court involved. This allows for immediate dispersal of assets by the trustee (the person administering the trust). Because there is no probate court involvement trusts can also bypass public record of the transactions.

There are also significant ways to manage taxes at your time of death. Some of the many tools available to do this include a wide array of trusts (life insurance, remainder, personal residence, etc) and life insurance policies that pay directly to the beneficiary upon death. These vehicles are at the more complicated end of the estate planning spectrum.

Now that you a familiar with some of the estate planning tools available, it is time to start your estate planning process. Step number one is to list out all of your assets whether held just by you or jointly with your spouse. With that list in hand go through every item and choose who should receive each item upon your death. You should also note and items or recipients that you would like to place restrictions or requirements upon. Now it is time to decide if you are going to try and create your estate plan on your own or with the help of a professional.

Estate planning can seem like a daunting undertaking, but knowing that it is very important and taking it one step at a time will help you complete the process. Hiring professionals to help you in the process is also extremely helpful and highly encouraged.

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