In our work as estate planning attorneys, we have noticed that many Texas residents are vaguely aware of the concept of estate planning, but are not quite sure what it is or why they need to engage in estate planning themselves.
Thus, we thought we would write a post to elucidate some common aspects of estate planning and explain why they are important.
First, there are wills. A will is a document that directs how your assets, owned solely by you in your name alone and not governed by another mechanism, will be distributed after your death. The contents of a savings account that is yours alone would be a “probate asset” (an asset that a will would control), but a home that you jointly own with your spouse would be a “non-probate asset” that a will wouldn’t govern, because you don’t own it alone.
Having a will is important not only because it specifies how you would like your money distributed, but also because it can distribute other non-money things, like personal possessions, family heirlooms and the like.
Texas, like all other states, does have a default estate plan in place, but there’s no guarantee that it matches your wishes. Thus, it’s better to have a will of your own.
A second feature of a thorough and well-rounded estate plan is a living will. Formally known as a Directive to Physicians, this document specifies what kind of medical treatment you would like to receive in the event that you fall into a terminal or irreversible condition. This is the sort of document that many people were prompted to investigate in the wake of incidents like the Terri Schiavo case. We know that it is not pleasant to think about becoming unable to express your wishes yourself, but it is important to have this possibility addressed.
If you have children, you should also look into the possibility of naming a guardian for them in the event that you die before they have reached the age of maturity. Generally speaking, guardianships appoint someone to make decisions and look after vulnerable people.
These are just three elements of a comprehensive estate plan. At Ford + Bergner, we believe that every estate plan should be carefully customized to the individual it is being prepared for. For more information, we invite you to contact us.