Thinking about and planning for what happens after you pass away can be uncomfortable, but it’s essential to leave a legacy behind for your loved ones.
Creating an intentional estate plan allows you to accomplish this. An estate planning attorney can help you craft a personalized estate plan that suits your situation and preferences.
At The Zimmerman Law Firm, P.C., we take the time to understand your circumstances and wishes. Then, we work with you to curate a plan that reflects your priorities.
What Is an Estate Plan?
Estate planning is the process of creating a plan, a set of legal documents, that outlines your wishes for the management of your personal affairs and the distribution of your assets after you pass away.
The possessions and other things that you leave behind after your death are legally called your estate. Your estate consists of the property, both real and personal, that you own at the time of your death.
Real property includes land and improvements (such as fences and buildings) located on the land. Real property also includes oil, gas, and other mineral interests. Personal property is all property other than real property, including:
- Cash and bank accounts,
- Clothing and personal effects,
- Household furnishings,
- Motor vehicles,
- Stocks and bonds,
- Life insurance policies, and
- Government, retirement, or employee benefits.
Properly identifying and classifying your property can help you create an appropriate estate plan. For example, you might place some of your property in a trust to reduce the value of your estate, thus decreasing the total estate tax.
An estate planning lawyer can help you identify and categorize your assets to create an estate plan that fits your circumstances, preferences, and budget.
Why Do I Need an Estate Plan?
While the topic of death may be uncomfortable for some to consider, having an estate plan is crucial for protecting your family, ensuring your wishes are carried out, and avoiding potential legal issues.
In this way, estate planning can be another way to show care and compassion to your loved ones even after you’re gone.
Without an estate plan, your family may have to go through a lengthy and expensive probate process to distribute your assets.
Having an estate plan can help your family avoid probate and minimize the time and cost involved in managing your affairs.
What Happens If I Die Without an Estate Plan?
If you pass away without an estate plan, Texas law will decide how your assets are distributed for you. These laws provide a default plan for distributing assets, but may not align with your wishes.
By having an estate plan, you can ensure that your assets are distributed according to your preferences rather than leaving it up to the state.
What Are Examples of Texas Estate Planning Documents?
In Texas, there are several types of estate planning that a person can consider. Each serves an essential function in the estate planning process. Common types of estate planning documents include the following:
- Deeds (including Lady Bird Deeds and Transfer on Death Deeds),
- Powers of Attorney,
- HIPAA Releases, and
- Directives to Physicians (also known as Advance Directives or Living Wills).
You can read more about each of these estate planning documents below.
A Will is a legal document that contains a set of detailed instructions about who is to receive your property upon your death.
In a Will, you can also name a guardian for your minor children and designate who should be responsible for carrying out your wishes after you are gone (an executor).
Trusts are legal arrangements in which a person’s property is held by a trustee (the person responsible for carrying out any instructions in the trust) for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries.
People often use trusts to provide support to themselves and their loved ones and to avoid the sometimes costly and cumbersome probate process.
You can use a deed to transfer property to someone (an individual or organization) without going through the probate process or creating a trust. If you choose, you can also establish a trust and transfer your property to the trust using a deed.
Lady Bird Deeds and Transfer on Death Deeds (TODDs) enable you to own and live in your house now, but have it automatically pass to someone else of your choosing upon your death.
Having one of these deeds will also help you protect your home from the Medicaid Estate Recovery Program.
Powers of Attorney
Powers of attorney enable you (the principal) to name someone else (the agent) to make decisions on your behalf.
In Texas, there are two types of powers of attorney, durable powers of attorney and medical powers of attorney.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that protects a person’s medical information from being disclosed by healthcare providers without their consent.
A HIPAA Release allows you to authorize trusted individuals, usually the agents named under your medical power of attorney, to access and discuss your medical information with your healthcare providers.
Having a HIPAA Release in place can be especially important if you become incapacitated because it ensures that those who are responsible for making decisions about your medical care have access to the necessary information to make informed decisions.
Directives to Physicians
A Directive to Physicians (also called an Advance Directive or Living Will) empowers you to create specific end-of-life plans if you become terminally ill or incapacitated.
In the document, you provide detailed instructions about what types of medical care you would like in the case you are diagnosed with a terminal or irreversible condition and can no longer communicate your wishes for yourself.
Do I Need to Update My Estate Plan?
It’s important to understand that estate planning is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process that requires regular reviews and updates.
It is generally recommended to review and update your estate plan every three to five years.
You should also update your estate plan when you experience a significant life event such as: a marriage, divorce, birth, death, or other substantial change in your personal or financial circumstances.
Specific reasons to update your estate plan may include:
- The birth or adoption of a child or grandchild,
- The death of a family member,
- Health events,
- Changes in your financial situation,
- Changes in the law, and
- Changes in your estate planning goals or priorities, such as a change in your charitable giving plans or your desire to provide for a loved one with special needs.
Contact an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney for Help
Estate planning can be complex, and there are many legal requirements that must be met for your documents to be considered valid.
Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can help ensure that your wishes are carried out and that your loved ones are protected.
At The Zimmerman Law Firm, our Central Texas attorneys can provide guidance on the best estate planning strategies for your individual needs and goals.
We can also help you understand the tax implications of your decisions and ensure that your documents comply with Texas law.
Estate Planning FAQ
Estate planning is the process of creating a plan to manage and distribute your assets after you pass away. It involves creating legal documents such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and directives to physicians.
Estate planning can provide several benefits, including ensuring that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, minimizing taxes, avoiding probate, and providing for your loved ones.
Yes, even if you have a small estate, an estate planning attorney can help ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes and that your loved ones are provided for.