The part of my job that I enjoy most is the conferences I have with my clients. I love hearing about their loved ones, and their hopes and dreams for them. I always come away with a glimpse of my clients’ deep love for their families. It’s a beautiful thing!
Overwhelmingly, it is that love that motivates them to get their affairs in order. They want to provide for and protect their families. And they especially want to ensure that their families will not be burdened if they become incapacitated or die. “I just want to make it easy for my loved ones,” they often say. “What do I need to do?”
The following are a few of my recommendations:
1. Get a will
If you die intestate (without a valid Texas will), the Texas statutes will determine how your property will be divided. In other words, your property will be distributed according to a statutory formula that doesn’t take into account your wishes and unique circumstances. This can often lead to undesired consequences.
Additionally, the process of settling an estate without a will can be significantly more complicated and expensive. Having a will ensures your property will be distributed according to your wishes and that your estate will be settled in the most expeditious manner.
2. Name a guardian for your minor children
As a parent, you know your children better than anyone, so you are uniquely qualified to choose the person who will raise them in the event of a tragedy. However, if you don’t name a guardian, a judge who doesn’t know you and your kids will make that decision in your place according to certain statutory guidelines. This can sometimes be problematic.
For example, the statutory guidelines require that a court award custody to an orphaned child’s grandparent. But what if the extended families of the child’s parents do not get along and disagree about who would be best suited to care for the child? This may result in a legal battle over guardianship. Ultimately, your child would be caught in the middle and be subject to even more stress during what would already be an emotionally tumultuous time.
3. Leave your children’s assets in a trust
In Texas, minors are considered incapacitated. Therefore, if you leave them more than a nominal amount of money outright, a guardianship will have to be created to manage those assets for them. Guardianships can be very expensive and time consuming. Moreover, all the assets you leave them will be distributed at eighteen years of age, when they may not have the wisdom or foresight to manage the assets wisely.
Trusts can ensure that your assets are managed by a person you choose and distributed how and when you decide. Even if your children are not minors, setting up a trust is a good idea. For more information why, read: Is Your Child Trust Worthy?
4. Coordinate non-probate assets with your overall estate plan
Some people go through the time and expense of estate planning but fail to change beneficiary designation on non-probate assets such as life insurance.
Once you have finalized and signed your will, it is essential that you change your beneficiary designations to correspond with the way your will disposes of your assets. Otherwise, those assets may not be distributed as you intended.
5. Make your end of life wishes known
If you were suffering from an irreversible or terminal condition, would you want life sustaining treatment to be provided? Sharing your healthcare wishes and explaining your reasoning can relieve your loved ones of a lot of stress they may feel in making these decisions without your guidance.
6. Get a durable power of attorney
If you become disabled and do not have a Texas durable power of attorney in place, a court-ordered guardianship may be necessary. Guardianship is time-consuming and expensive, and can be avoided by creating a power of attorney.
7. Make sure you have enough life insurance
Life insurance can ensure that your family is not financially burdened in the event of a tragedy. This is especially true if you are the sole provider of the family. If you die without sufficient assets or insurance, your spouse may not be able to afford to keep your home or pay for living expenses, adding additional stress.
Life insurance is especially important if you and your spouse both die together. It is ultimately your responsibility to provide the financial means necessary to support your children in the event the unthinkable happens. Life insurance can help the guardians you’ve selected support your children and pay for things such as your children’s college education.
For more information, read: How Much Insurance Do I Need To Protect My Family?
8. Plan for the disposition of intangible treasures
When people plan their estates, they often take great care in planning for the disposition assets with significant financial worth, such as their homes, 401Ks, IRAs, jewelry and valuable pieces of art. But it’s typically the items that hold sentimental value for many family members that create the most conflict after the death of a loved one.
So talk to your family members about what items hold special sentimental value for them and include a memorandum with your will directing who should receive each item when you die.
9. Organize your records
Rummaging through someone’s disorganized records is not an enjoyable task in good times, let alone times of grief. So one of the greatest gifts you can give your family is having all your personal and financial records in order so that they can be easily found when needed. For more information read: Is Your Estate In Order?
10. Tell loved ones where important documents are located
Regardless of where you keep your estate planning documents, remember that they are worthless if no one knows where to find them. So make sure you tell your beneficiaries or executor where they are located, and continue to remind them over the years.
And then rest easy. Your family will be grateful.