Many people believe they must have millions of dollars in assets and investments to need an estate plan, but that is not true. Anyone who wants to ensure that their spouse and/or children receives their assets when they pass away should think about establishing an estate plan.
Understanding Texas Estate Planning, Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, and More
To begin the estate planning process in Texas, you will need to prepare some important documents that will empower others to carry out your instructions. The following are some of the most common documents a good estate planning or probate law attorney can help you with:
- A Will. A Will outlines how you wish for your assets to be distributed upon your death and who they will be distributed to. If you have minor children, you can also designate a guardian who will care for them if they do not have a surviving parent after you’ve passed. Upon your death, a Will is generally submitted to the probate court, which will admit your Will to probate and give your Executor the authority to carry out the terms of your Will.
- A Trust. A Trust is a fiduciary agreement in which you (the Grantor) transfer your assets to the Trust during your lifetime and designate a Trustee (yourself or a third party) to control those assets during your lifetime and to administer the Trust after your death in order to distribute the Trust assets to your family or friends (the Beneficiaries). A Trust allows you to pass assets to your Beneficiaries by avoiding probate, saving costs and time. Further, there are generally tax benefits for your heirs who receive assets through a Trust.
- Statutory Durable Power of Attorney. A Statutory Durable Power of Attorney (also called a financial power of attorney) authorizes someone to make financial decisions on your behalf during your lifetime if you are unable to make those decisions on your own.
- Texas Medical Power of Attorney. A Texas Medical Power of Attorney is a statutory form that authorizes someone to make medical decisions on your behalf during your lifetime if you are unable to make those decisions on your own.
- An Advance Directive or Living Will. An Advance Directive memorializes your intent that you be kept comfortable, free of pain, and hydrated but allowed to pass away naturally if you are in a permanent vegetative state.
What Happens if You Die Without a Plan?
The legal term for dying without a Will or Trust is dying “intestate.” If you die intestate, any assets that do not have a beneficiary designation will pass to your Heirs-at-law, determined according to Texas law. Texas does not allow for oral Wills – your wishes must be written down. If you die intestate, the probate court will need to determine who your Heirs-at-law are and appoint an Administrator to distribute your assets to your Heirs-at-law, pay any debts, and wind up your affairs. If it is important to you to control who benefits from your estate, then having an estate plan in order should be a top priority.
For assistance with estate planning, probate law, and other matters related to Wills and Trusts in the Denton and DFW area, contact our attorneys at The Reecer Law Firm, PLLC. Dena A. Reecer, principal and founder, has been Board Certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization since 2008 and has decades of experience in helping clients carry out their final wishes.