Explaining Estate Planning

The phrase “estate planning” can be a daunting and mystifying one for many people. It certainly was for me, more than 20 years ago when I began law school. However, thanks to some excellent professors, patient mentors, and a lot of practice and self-study, I was able to realize that estate planning is merely the means to use documents and laws to take care of your family and your possessions, both before and after you pass away.

At the most basic level, that means having a Will in place, to carry out your wishes in terms of both distributing your property and providing for the needs of your children and other family members.

But the Will only addresses what happens when you pass away. What if something serious were to happen to you before then?

Well, estate planning can cover that as well, by using Medical and Statutory Durable Powers of Attorney to grant certain individuals the power to make certain decisions on your behalf if you were to become disabled or incapacitated. Hopefully, these are things that would never happen to you. However, given what we know about “best-laid plans” and how they work out, it is good to have documents in place to prepare for just such an occurrence. In that respect, certain estate planning documents can be much like insurance policies, in that you hope to never need them but it is good to know that they are there. HIPAA Authorizations and Physicians’ Directives (called “Living Wills” by some) serve similar purposes by making your wishes known when you are unable to state those wishes yourself. And well-crafted Trusts can address various needs, both during and after your lifetime.

Simple and straightforward, right?

Well, yes, at least as to what those estate planning documents are called and what they do. But the devil, as they say, can be in the details.

Texas law has numerous requirements as to both the contents and execution of these documents. Not just any old document titled “Will” suffices, and not all witnesses are created equal…nor are all beneficiaries, executors, agents, and trustees.

On top of that, Texas law is constantly evolving. Case in point: the “Statutory Durable Power of Attorney” form was recently amended (again), in connection with Texas’ passage of a new set of laws dealing with access to digital assets.

Having an experienced attorney to help guide you through the process is essential to having a better understanding of how the documents that make up “estate planning” work and the evolving nature of Texas statutes and case law underscore the need to have a knowledgeable guide through the process of drafting, revising, executing and, later on, reviewing your estate planning documents.

Once the estate planning process was de-mystified for me, I was able to better prepare for my family’s needs. Now that it has been demystified for you, what will you do?