A basic estate plan consists of five documents. These documents handle a person’s affairs while they are alive, while they are disabled, and after they pass away. Every parent should have them in order to avoid unnecessary legal obstacles and to guarantee that their estate passes to their spouse and children according to their wishes. In no particular order, these documents are:
Medical Power of Attorney
This document specifies who can make medical decisions if someone isn’t able to make them for yourselves. They also usually come along with a HIPAA release, which specifies who has access to medical records. Hospitals routinely ask for these, and it’s always a good idea to have one in place. In these strange times, at least one hospital has refused to admit anyone to see the patient who was not also the person’s medical attorney-in-fact.
Statutory Durable Power of Attorney
This document specifies who can make financial decisions for you, among other things. In a pinch, they enable an attorney-in-fact to access the principal’s bank account to pay their bills.
Sometimes known as a “living Will,” a directive specifies whether or not a person wants the plug pulled on them if they are on life support and have no realistic hope of recovery.
A Will specifies who gets your property when you die, and also specifies who you want to serve as your executor. A Will must be probated upon a person’s death – meaning, someone has to take the Will to Court, ask the Will to be admitted, and ask the Court to appoint an executor. An executor is a person, appointed by a Court, who is responsible for creating an inventory of the deceased person’s property, paying bills, and distributing the remainder in accordance with the decedent’s will. A will can also specify a person’s intent as to who they want to serve as their child’s legal guardian if they should be survived by minor children. People who do not have a Will at the time of their death have a different type of probate, called intestate. In short, if you don’t have a Will, the State of Texas has one for you. Intestate probate is more complex and expensive than one where a Will is involved, and it also takes longer to complete.
Declaration of Guardian
There are two types of declarations. One applies to minor children, whereby a parent can specify who they want to serve as guardian of their minor children if they are unable to do so. The other specifies who they want to serve as their own guardian if they need one. If someone does not have a Statutory Durable or Medical Power of Attorney, guardianship may be necessary to manage the person’s affairs. Guardianships are complex and expensive court proceedings.
Not having these documents in place in normal times can be a painful experience. As we work around the issues created by COVID-19 in these strange times, we are quickly finding that legal processes will take longer than they normally would, and medical professionals may need your Medical POA and Advance Directive in a moment’s notice. If you have these documents completed, make sure your loved ones know where to find them.
Consult Our Experienced North Texas Estate Planning Attorney
Whether you're planning your own estate, trying to understand a parent's estate plan, caring for an aging relative or facing probate, our experienced Dallas estate planning attorney can help you navigate the process and safeguard your family's future. Contact Colin Smith Law today to schedule an appointment for a free initial consultation.