An effective estate plan can do a lot to protect your loved ones and your estate from costly divorces, lawsuits, and taxes (both estate tax and income tax). You may think you don’t need an estate plan, especially, if you’re young and healthy, but it would be a mistake to adopt this mindset. As a Houston estate planning and probate lawyer, I often meet people who have horror stories about dealing with a loved one’s estate because that person died without a will. There certainly can be challenges and obstacles to overcome when dealing with an estate that has a good will in place, but the challenges are usually larger and more complex (i.e., expensive) when a person dies without a will in Texas.
If you have minor children, it is especially important to have a good estate plan in place. Your estate plan should include documents that name guardians for you children. Failure to name guardians for your children will result in a judge ultimately naming a guardian for them, and could result in a massive amount of conflict between family members. Additionally, your wills should probably create trusts for your children so that the assets can be managed by a trustee that you select and name in your will. Without taking this precaution, a court may have to create a trust for your children’s inherited assets, and you may not like the default terms of the trust or who is appointed to manage it.
In addition to a last will and testament, you should have a financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. A financial power of attorney (durable power of attorney) names who will manage your finances if you become incapacitated. You can give your agent very narrow powers or extremely broad powers, depending on your specific needs. A medical power of attorney appoints an agent to make healthcare decisions if you are unable to do so. Included in that document (or as a separate document) you can also have a directive to physicians which states your wishes regarding end of life care, such as whether you wish to be kept on life support indefinitely.
If any of your life circumstances have changed in recent years, such as having children, losing a spouse, or getting a divorce, you should contact your Houston estate planning attorney to discuss whether an update is needed for your estate plan. If it’s been more than a few years, now would be a good time to review those documents with your estate planning attorney to ensure that they are up to date regarding any recent changes in laws.
For more information on Houston estate planning and probate, visit my website.