The foundations of a successful estate plan can include documents such as a Last Will and Testament, a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney and Medical Power of Attorney, a Directive to Physicians & HIPAA Authorization, and a Living Trust. These documents ensure that your wishes will be followed and your assets will go to the loved ones you choose. Together we can help you tailor an Estate Plan that will accomplish your goals, plan for any eventualities and take care of your family.
If you would like assistance with planning for your future, please email Attorney R.F. Michael Snodgrass at email@example.com or call the office at 512-418-6587 to set up a free 1-Hour Estate Planning Consultation at our office in downtown Austin (or potentially at a more convenient location, such as your home, if traveling has become difficult for you).
Last Will & Testament
In your LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT, you specify who will receive your assets and property when you pass away. If you die without a valid Will (which is referred to as dying "intestate"), Texas law determines who inherits your property, which may not end up being the family members that you intended. For this and many other reasons, it is far preferable to lay out your wishes in a thorough, thoughtful Will. For more complicated estate plans, some clients choose to have a Revocable Living Trust in addition to their Will.
Revocable Living Trust
A REVOCABLE LIVING TRUST (also called a Living Trust or simply a Trust) should sometimes be used in addition to your Last Will and Testament to establish your wishes for the distribution of your wealth and estate at the time of your passing. The Trust is "revocable" because you can alter, amend or terminate part or all of it at any time in the future. A Living Trust is highly recommended for certain individuals because it avoids the expensive, stressful and time-consuming Probate process that occurs if you don't have a Trust; it is doubly important for those who own real estate in other states, possess valuable personal property (such as jewelry, art, antiques, books or gold), run a small business or want to ensure that both their current spouse and their children from a prior marriage are properly cared for.
Married couples usually have one joint Living Trust, though anyone can have their own individual Trust. When the creator(s) of the Trust pass away, the assets in the Trust can be distributed to the deceased's loved ones right away. The designated Successor Trustee can instantly carry out the instructions written in the Trust, as opposed to the Executor of a Will, who has to trudge through the slow process of probating a Will, which can involve judges, lawyers, complicated accountings, hearings and court fees. With a Trust, the Probate process can be avoided completely. The Probate process is public record, so it allows any interested snooping party to see what you owned, who will inherit it and when they will receive it (allowing creditors to come after the inheritance of your loved ones). Additionally, the Probate process can sometimes prove to be costly, slow, embarrassing and difficult to bring to an end.
All of the assets an Attorney advises you to transfer into your Trust (called "funding" your trust) should be transferred into your Trust soon after it is created. These assets include real estate, valuable personal property, bank accounts, stocks and other securities and various other assets (based on your circumstances - something you should discuss with an Attorney).
In order for assets to be transferred into your Trust, new Deeds for your real estate will be prepared, financial institutions must be contacted and certain documents evidencing ownership must be re-titled. When the creator(s) of the Trust pass away, any asset (a) not protected by the strong walls of the Trust (which acts like a castle protecting the property inside), (b) passing as directed by properly executed beneficiary designation forms or (c) passing by joint ownership of property with the right of survivorship will instead go through the Probate process. An Attorney will ensure that all of your assets will be protected by your Trust or pass by other Probate-avoiding methods so as to completely avoid the Probate process.
A MEDICAL DIRECTIVE allows you to make your health care wishes known in advance in case at some point in the future you become mentally or physically incapacitated and are unable to speak for yourself concerning the treatments you would or would not want to receive. It contains two parts - a Living Will and a Medical Power of Attorney.
Living Will / Directive to Physicians
A LIVING WILL (called a "Directive to Physicians" in Texas) is the part of your Medical Directive that states your wishes with respect to life-prolonging procedures and end-of-life decisions if you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself, such as whether you would want your life to be prolonged artificially if you were in a terminal condition or vegetative state.
Medical Power of Attorney
A MEDICAL POWER OF ATTORNEY (also called a Health Care Power of Attorney or a Health Care Proxy) is the second part of your Medical Directive. It names the person or persons that you wish to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. Unlike your Living Will, your Medical Power of Attorney is not limited to dealing solely with life-prolonging treatments and end-of-life decisions. Your appointed "Agent" may need to make tough decisions, such as weighing the pros and cons of a surgery that could improve your quality of life, but is potentially fatal.
Durable Power of Attorney
A DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY (also called a Financial Power of Attorney) gives the person you choose the power to do anything you could normally do yourself (and is generally used if at some point in the future you become physically or mentally incapacitated and are unable to speak for yourself). It is "general" in that it can confer any number of broad powers (many relating to financial transactions) on someone you trust implicitly, such as signing contracts on your behalf, purchasing or selling property, borrowing money, depositing or withdrawing funds from bank accounts or filing taxes. It can also be useful for simpler things, such as writing checks to your retirement community, paying utilities, changing your address at the post office or canceling an unused cell phone plan, a magazine subscription or a club membership.
A LIMITED POWER OF ATTORNEY gives the person you choose a specific power(s), such as the authority to sell your house during a specified period of time or permission to manage your checking account at a specific bank, and no other powers besides the one(s) specified.
In conclusion, the process of creating a Last Will and Testament, a Revocable Living Trust, a Power of Attorney and a Medical Directive can be quite complicated, stressful and time-consuming, and it is easy for laypeople to make mistakes without realizing it. If you would like assistance with planning for your future, please email Attorney R.F. Michael Snodgrass at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office at 512-418-6587 to set up a free 1-hour Estate Planning Consultation.
I promise to listen, ask the right questions, lay out your options, create all the necessary documents, and if your situation calls for it, help move your assets into your newly-created Revocable Living Trust. I look forward to hearing from you and working with you to ensure that your future unfolds as you want it to.