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A Legacy of Love: An Introduction to Estate Planning

The Opportunity to Choose Love

Many put off creating an estate plan until it is too late — when death or incapacity is imminent. At this time, there is insufficient energy or time to fully consider all the ramifications of your estate plan.  An estate plan at this point is more like triage in the middle of battle – it likely won’t accomplish all you desire.

A well-thought-out estate plan, on the other hand, is a way to demonstrate your love and appreciation for family, friends and community after your transition from this life or during a period of incapacitation. It is a collection of living documents that change along with the circumstances in your life, such as when you or someone in your family has a baby.   The ultimate outcome of a thoughtfully considered estate plan is leaving a legacy of love.

This is achieved by starting with the end in mind.  What kind of legacy do you want to leave? Do you want to leave a portion of your estate to charity?  Do you want to provide for your children by giving them reliable monthly payments that will help support them, while still encouraging independence and preventing the potential for one to squander an inheritance?  Do you want to designate who will take care of your children if you are unable to do so yourself?  Do want to include a letter explaining your goals?

The Nuts & Bolts of an Estate Plan

All estate plans in Texas will consist of the following:

a will (or living trust),

durable power of attorney,

medical power of attorney (and HIPPA release) and

directive to physicians.

A will is a document that allows you to choose who will receive your real and personal property after your transition.  Without a will, the state of Texas has a statute that decides who will receive your property, regardless of what you may have told your family was your intention. Your spouse, children or other family members will have to go through a legal proceeding in court before they will have the authority to resolve issues with your property or transfer property to family.  In addition to being a hassle and a potentially long process, this can be quite costly.

The durable power of attorney gives a trusted person in your life the authority to handle your financial affairs if you are unable to do so yourself during your life. Without this document, selling your assets to pay for medical expenses may be very difficult.

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> The medical power of attorney entrusts a close friend or family member with the responsibility of making medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so.  The HIPPA release is necessary to allow the person with medical power of attorney to have access to your medical information so they can make informed decisions about your health.  Without a HIPPA release, all of your medical information is kept confidential.

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> The directive to physicians allows you to make decisions about your health ahead of time.  You can choose whether you would want to be kept on life support and whether you want pain medications.  These lifestyle choices are known ahead of time and relieve loved ones of the burden of making difficult decisions.

 Some Need an Estate Plan More Than Others

Your estate plan is an opportunity to take control of your life and effectively convey your wishes.  An estate plan is important for everyone, but it is especially important for individuals with children, same-sex couples and unmarried individuals without children.

Individuals with children find wills important because the will determines who will take care of your children if you transition while they are a minor and will allow you to designate certain assets to provide for your children in the case of such an event.

Same-sex couples need a will because same-sex couples are not contemplated as part of the state’s default method of dividing one’s estate or in determining who will be able to care for one’s remains.  Also, the completion of other documents we discussed above is crucial for allowing a same sex partner to make medical decisions.  Without an estate plan, one may be left powerless to help and care for one’s life partner.

Unmarried individuals without children should draft a will because the state’s default method of dividing one’s estate in this case may result in your assets being conveyed to your siblings, parents, distant relatives, or maybe even to the state itself.

 Action is Easier Than Expected

Many put off creating an estate plan until it is too late because it is one of those projects that seems too large to approach.  In actuality, all that is needed when speaking with most estate attorneys is the following:

  • List of real estate, stocks, bonds, cars and other large assets your own
  • Any existing will
  • Contact information for trust individuals you may want to be your medical or durable power of attorney.

Everything else in your head!  Let your attorney do all the heavy lifting.

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This article was written by Ronda M. Litwin.  She is an attorney at Litwin Law Group, PLLC, which is a general practice law firm focusing on estate planning, entertainment law, family law and civil  appeals.


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