Estate Planning 101: Answering the Top Five Questions

August 8, 2023

You have likely heard about estate planning and the importance of it. Considering that estate planning encompasses wills, powers of attorney, and thinking about the probate process, it is not always straightforward. If you have thought about planning for your estate, you likely have many questions. Below, our Houston estate planning lawyer outlines the five most common questions we hear and the answers to them.

When Should You Create an Estate Plan?

Planning your estate is a task that is easy to keep putting off. Many people think there is not an urgent need to plan their estate, particularly if they do not have a family or have not amassed a substantial amount of wealth. However, this is not the case. You should consider planning your estate as important as planning for retirement, health care, and your finances.

All adults can benefit immensely from a comprehensive estate plan. Of course, if you have a lot of assets, it is even more important to have an estate plan in place. Likewise, if you have minor children, you should create an estate plan that names the guardian you would like to raise and care for them. Still, having substantial property or a family is certainly not a prerequisite for creating an estate plan. If you are an adult, you need an estate plan, regardless of your income, assets, or age.

Should You Share Details of Your Estate Plan With Loved Ones?

Whether you share the details of your estate plan with your loved ones or not is a personal decision. It can be uncomfortable to discuss your final wishes with your family members, and they may not even be open to hearing about it. Still, discussing your estate plan with loved ones does have many benefits.

For example, if there are people you think will be unhappy with your estate plan, now may be the time for transparency. You can explain your reasoning for the decisions you made, and it may even help your beneficiaries avoid challenges and contests to your will or other parts of your estate plan in the future. Instead, you can deal with any disputes directly now.

What Tools Should You Include in Your Estate Plan?

It is no small task to plan your estate, as it needs to be specific to you and your own personal situation. Due to the fact that everyone has different circumstances and, therefore, they require a unique estate plan, there are no real requirements to include. Still, there are some elements that are commonly included in estate plans. These include:

  • Your last will and testament, which is often the foundation of many estate plans,
  • Trusts, such as testamentary trusts, asset protection trusts, Crummey trusts, special needs trusts, charitable trusts, and more,
  • Funeral arrangements,
  • Retirement planning,
  • Medicaid and Medicare planning, and 
  • Advanced health directives, such as health care power of attorney and medical power of attorney

You may not need to include all of the above elements in your estate plan. You may also give some elements more importance and precedence than others, depending on your own personal situation. For example, if you have health concerns, you should include provisions in the event that you become incapacitated. If your assets largely include real estate properties, on the other hand, you may be more concerned about creating trusts that will protect those assets now and in the future. You should always speak to a Houston estate planning lawyer who can advise on the elements that may be most important for your plan.

Should You Include a Durable Power of Attorney in Your Estate Plan?

A durable power of attorney gives another person the legal authority to make decisions for you in the event that you cannot make them for yourself. If you do not include a durable power of attorney in your estate plan, the court will appoint one for you if you become incapacitated. The court may not appoint someone that you would have chosen, and the court process can be more costly than simply drafting a durable power of attorney.

When choosing a power of attorney, it is critical that you name someone you trust implicitly. They will have your safety and well-being in their hands, and you want to make sure they understand and will carry out your wishes. Being someone’s power of attorney can also be very stressful, as it is a huge responsibility. Speak to the person you are considering appointing to make sure that they are willing and able to take on the task so you can inform them about your wishes.

How Often Should You Review Your Estate Plan?

Unfortunately, drafting an estate plan is not a ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ matter. The only constant in life is change, and you will need to adjust your plan accordingly from time to time. Any time there is a major life event, such as a birth or divorce, you will want to review your estate plan. For example, if you have left assets to your daughter and her husband and they divorce, you may want to change your will to disinherit your son-in-law. Or, if a new baby is born, you may want to create a trust so you can leave certain assets to them.

Even when there are no major life events, you should still review your estate plan fairly regularly. You can review it annually or semi-annually at the same time you review your financial plan. For estate planning purposes specifically, you should review your plan at least every three to five years.

Our Estate Planning Lawyer in Houston Can Answer Your Questions

If you are thinking about planning your estate, you likely have many questions. At Integrity Law Group, PLLC, our Houston estate planning lawyer can answer them and help you draft a plan that will protect you and your loved ones. Call us now at (832) 280-9576 or contact us online to request a consultation and obtain the legal advice you need.

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