The 4 Most Important Estate Planning Documents

Proper Estate Planning is Simple

Building an Estate Plan is like drafting architectural drawings before construction of a building.

Building an Estate Plan is like drafting architectural drawings before construction of a building.

Anyone who knows me knows that I like to keep it simple.  What is more is that you don't need complex documents to protect your estate and your loved ones.  It really is quite simple and I am going to tell you what four documents are the most important to have.

1. WILLS

By far, the most important document to have is a will.  A will can be a single page, it does not require elaborate wording, boilerplate, and complex instructions.  In the situation where there are considerable assets or specific devises to a wide range of people, a more complex will or even Trust may be required.  The two main types of wills are: Living Will and Last Will. 

A Living Will is really just a hybrid of a Health Care Power of Attorney and a Last Will.  I am recommend against Living Wills because in order for the health care powers to be used, a copy of the Living Will must be given to doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies.  Personally, your distributions and heir designations are nobody's business but your own.  A Living Will, to me, is the least private document and I advise against them.  Should you toss out your living will if you already have one?  No, but if you were me l would. 

A Last Will is a regular will that states at the time of your death exactly who is to get what and who is listed as the executor, (person who carries out your last wishes).  These are fairly simple to draft and work as a "catch-all" for probate property.  You see, after you make a will, it is reasonable to assume that you will buy and sell various property such as a car, furniture, homes, etc before you die.  A will acts as the catch-all to general and even specific devises.  In simpler terms, a will makes sure that no stone is left unturned and that no issues remain in limbo after your death.

2. POWER OF ATTORNEY - HEALTH CARE

A power of attorney ("POA") for health care is a must have.  It is second on my list because once you are in a situation where you need one, it is often too late for you to get one.  In Texas, you must be coherent and able to understand the content and nature of the document you are signing in order to make it a valid document.  Sometimes, a client who does not have a POA will call a few days before major surgery or family members will call when a loved one shows signs of possible dementia or loss of cognitive functions.  It is not too late.  This document can be prepared in under an hour if need be and emailed to where you are.  It requires a notary and does not require that an attorney be present (necessarily).  It doesn't matter whether the client is coherent all the time, it just matters that they are coherent and able to appreciate what they are signing at the time they are signing.

3. APPOINTMENT OF GUARDIAN

If you have children, you should have this document.  Period.  If, God forbid, something happens to you, who takes care of your children?  Your mother, right?  No.  Anyone the Court appoints will take guardianship of your children.  The evil Aunt you never invite to picnics could hire a good lawyer and take custody of your children regardless of where they want to live or who you know is best to raise your children.  Because this happened to a client of mine, I preach this strictly because you must understand something; When you die, without a proper Appointment of Guardian, your last wishes are irrelevant and your minor children's future is up for grabs.  Maybe the State decides your mother isn't the best caretaker and hands them over to children's services.  Who knows what will happen?  What I do know is that with proper planning, you can help your children and family avoid these hard decisions and headaches.  Really, it's the responsible thing to do and that's what this whole estate planning process is all about. 

4. GOOD ADVICE

Okay, this last item isn't a document.  But, you have to have it.  Good advice is worth its weight in gold.  There are a couple do it yourself websites and programs that claim to draft these documents for you at low prices.  DON'T DO IT!!  Seriously, don't.  Only a licensed and seasoned attorney will give you proper advice for your situation and needs.   Luckily for you, you found me.  I operate a law firm with the lowest prices in Texas.  I will beat any advertised or written price for ANY estate document.  If you have documents now or just questions, please do not hesitate to contact a knowledgeable attorney to make sure you have everything in order.  I'd like you to contact me, but almost any attorney is better than those DIY websites and software.