Congratulations! You are committed to doing this “estate planning thing” that you’ve been putting off forever. Not sure where to start? Not sure what documents you need? No problem! Regardless of your status (single, widowed, married, divorced, remarried, 18-year-old) these are the five documents you definitely need to start an estate plan:
1. Last Will and Testament
A will is a document that explains how you want your personal assets (house, car, wig collection) distributed after you die. A will names an executor to carry out your last wishes after you die. It is paramount that you choose someone you trust, who is healthy and able to do the work. Additionally, an executor should get along with your beneficiaries and, most importantly, want the gig!
If you die without a will, you die “intestate.” Long story short: under Texas law, the court will find an heir to inherit your estate. Yes, even your estranged sister can take everything (depending on facts, of course!) To avoid a (sometimes) costly court process, it is always a good idea to have a valid will.
2. Financial Power of Attorney aka Statutory (Durable) Power of Attorney
A Financial Power of Attorney states that an individual who, by proxy, is authorized to act on your behalf in a limited or general financial capacity. The delegated powers may be effective immediately or they may become effective only upon your incapacitation. Use caution because when selecting your agent because he or she may have access to your bank accounts and other property and could cause harm to you if he or she is shady.
3. Medical Power of Attorney
A Medical Power of Attorney gives an individual that you select as an agent to make specific healthcare decisions should you become incapacitated as certified by a doctor. The person named as your agent has the authority to make any and all health care decisions for you according to your wishes, including religious and moral views, when you can’t decide for yourself.
4. HIPAA Directive
The individual(s) you appoint as your Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Agent will immediately have full access to any and all of your medical records. You should select individuals to be named as Authorized Recipients under HIPAA. You may want to include your Healthcare Agents, Financial Agents, and Trustees who will serve during any incapacity. You may likely want to list your adult children and close friends, as well.
5. Living Will aka “Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates”
A living will helps you communicate your wishes about medical treatment if you are unable to make your wishes known because of terminal illness or serious injury. These choices are usually based on personal values and you may want to consider what burdens or hardships of treatment you would be willing to accept for a particular amount of benefit obtained if you were seriously ill.
You can request that all treatments other than those needed to keep you comfortable be discontinued or withheld and your physician allow you to die as gently as possible OR that you be kept alive in this terminal condition using available life-sustaining treatment. Well that last one was a downer! But I like to tell people, you don’t HAVE to estate plan, you GET to.
Sometimes the mindset is best first step in planning to get your affairs in order. Additionally, communicating with your loved ones about these five documents NOW, and not later, prevents your family from fighting over what they think you’d have wanted.
Contact us at Ibekwe Law for help establishing your estate plan.