By Houston Probate Attorney Estelee Garrison
An effective estate plan should be designed to carry out your wishes for the distribution of assets and the appointment of representatives to manage your affairs in the event of your death, or temporary or permanent disability.
To establish your intentions and reduce the burden on your heirs, planning should be completed with an eye toward clarity and simplicity, as well as estate and gift tax savings, creditor protection, and minimizing or eliminating unnecessary probate involvement.
With the start of a new year, now is the perfect time to review the plans you have in place, and reflect on any changes that have happened in your life and how they may affect your estate plan. Below are some questions to consider as you review the terms of your will and your related estate planning documents.
Last Will and Testament
Have there been any changes in your family? These could include marriage, divorce, births, deaths, debilitating injuries or illnesses, minor children reaching the age of majority, etc. How about major changes in your financial circumstances, real or personal property, or other assets, including an increase or decrease in value, liquidity, and succession? Are you effectively planning for estate taxes?
Power of Attorney
Who is named to act as your agent? Have they been granted a Limited Power of Attorney or do they hold a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney? What about medical decisions and how those will be made? Have you granted a Medical Power of Attorney to anyone, and does that person know generally what your wishes are?
Advance Medical Directives
Medical decisions concerning life-sustaining care and treatment can be some of the hardest decisions to be thrust upon your family members. Do you have a valid Advance Medical Directive that details your wishes in the event of a terminal or irreversible condition and, if so, do your family members know it exists?
Are Your Beneficiary Designations Up to Date and Correct?
These will typically become effective immediately at the time of your death and will supersede a bequest in a Last Will and Testament. Did you know that divorce automatically affects a beneficiary designation? The most common example of these is a life insurance policy, but very often bank accounts and other financial assets include a beneficiary designation. Be sure you’re keeping track of which of your assets include such a designation, and that they’re up to date. And definitely review your designations after major life events such as marriage, the birth of children, divorce and remarriage. The difficulties you may avoid for your family and loved ones later will definitely make it worth your time.
How Are Your Assets Titled?
Do you understand how marriage affects your ownership of property? Do you know whether any of your property is your separate property, or if it’s all community property? Do you know what difference it makes if you have joint assets with rights of survivorship? How you own the property and other financial assets make a critical difference in how those assets are distributed under the laws of the Texas Estates Code, and your beneficiary designations should be reviewed periodically to ensure that assets are going to the correct beneficiaries.
Is All of Your Estate Information Gathered in One Place?
And last but definitely not least in terms of importance – remember that the most carefully planned and meticulous estate plan in the world cannot serve you if it remains safely hidden away and is never found. It is vital to keep all of your estates related information in a location known to your representative or at least where it can be easily found. This should include a listing of assets with account numbers, plans for distribution of tangible personal property, names and contact information of advisors, and final arrangement information.
Estelee Garrison is a Houston-based attorney specializing in the areas of probate and trust administration, guardianship, estate planning, and business succession planning with particular attention to high net worth planning. If you have questions about estate planning, please contact The Law Office of Sam M. “Trey” Yates, III, P.C. for a consultation.