Top 5 Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Planning
1. Do I really need a will?
Your will is a legal document that allows you to decide in advance how your property and belongings will be divided and who will get what. Every family is unique and you are the best person to decide how your assets should be distributed to your family and other heirs.
If you die without a will in place, state law will determine who receives your property. The state’s plan may not be what you would have wanted and might not suit your family’s situation. Further, if you die without a will, the court procedure to probate your estate can be significantly more expensive, time-consuming and stressful for your family.
2. What is probate? Can I avoid it?
A will may need to be validated by the probate court before your assets can be distributed to your heirs. This legal process is called probate. In Texas, uncontested probate cases can be relatively inexpensive if you have a properly drafted and executed will. Some people prefer to use a revocable living trust to avoid the probate process, for simplicity and for privacy reasons.
3. How does a Living Trust work?
A revocable living trust lets you control and protect your assets while you are living — even if you become incapacitated, and it allows you to determine what happens to those assets after you die. If all of your assets are owned by your trust at the time of your death, a court probate is not required. Legally you no longer own anything; everything now belongs to your trust. So there is nothing for the courts to control when you die or become incapacitated.
4. Is that all there is to estate planning?
No, there are several important documents you should have as part of your complete estate plan. A Power of Attorney, Declaration or Appointment of Guardian, and Advance Medical Directives are examples of legal documents you may need to have in place. A qualified estate planning attorney can help you determine what you should have to protect yourself or your loved ones when you die or become unable to make decisions for yourself.
5. Why would I need a Power of Attorney?
A power of attorney lets you choose who will have the power to act on your behalf in certain situations. The power may give that person temporary or permanent authority and it may take effect immediately or only when you become incapacitated. If you do not have a power of attorney and become unable to manage your own affairs, a court may have to appoint someone to act for you. A power of attorney allows you to choose who will act for you and defines his or her authority and its limits, so he or she can act without court supervision.