Your Last Will and Testament is the foundation of your estate plan. Your Will is the vehicle you use to transfer your assets upon your death. With a Will, you can leave your assets to the individuals or organizations that you choose.
To die without a Will leaves the disposition of your assets up to the State of Texas, according to the laws of intestate succession. This may or may not be according to your wishes.
You need to have a Will -- you want to be in control over who receives the assets you worked so hard for during your lifetime.
A comprehensive Estate Plan includes a Will, Medical Power of Attorney, Statutory Durable Power of Attorney, Declaration of Guardian for Minor Child, Advance Directive to Physicians, and other documents that your individual situation may require.
A Medical Power of Attorney is used when you need to make medical decisions but cannot do so for yourself. You may be unconscious, heavily medicated, in a coma, etc. -- in this situation, the person you appoint as your agent will be able to make medical decisions on your behalf.
A Statutory Durable Power of Attorney works in much the same ways as a Medical Power of Attorney, only it is for your Financial decisions. If you are unable to do your own financial transactions, the person you appoint in your Statutory Durable Power of Attorney will be able to do financial transactions for you.
A Declaration of Guardian for Minor Child is an absolute MUST if you have a child or children under age 18. Every parent contemplates who will take care of their children if the parents are deceased. With this Declaration of Guardian, you can decide who will take care of your children. Do not leave this to chance. If you do not do this, the courts will decide who will be the guardian of your children without your input.
An Advance Directive to Physicians is one of the kindest things you can do for your family. This document tells your physician whether you want to be kept alive using all available measures or whether you want to be allowed to die naturally and with dignity, without using extreme measures. This goes into effect if you are in a coma or unable to communicate and you are suffering from a terminal illness or injury and are likely to die within six months. This is a hard decision for a family to make -- having an Advance Directive to Physicians in place takes this decision out of the hands of your family and allows you to make the decision for yourself ahead of time.
A well-crafted Estate Plan can reduce or eliminate the need for probating your estate after you pass away.
A Revocable Living Trust allows you to transfer your assets into a trust during your lifetime; you can change, cancel or revoke the trust at anytime during your lifetime. After your death, ownership of your property is passed on by the trustee to your beneficiaries, according to the terms of the trust. The trust permits transfer of your possessions to beneficiaries without the need for lawyer's fees or probate court filings. Unlike a Will, the terms of a revocable living trust can be kept completely private. There may be circumstances where you choose to not transfer certain property into the living trust and in those cases, your Will to assigns those specific possessions to the beneficiaries you designate.
Trusts have been commonplace in Estate Plans for the last couple of decades. If you have a complex giving plan, if your Will could be contested, if you want to maintain your privacy, if you want to protect your assets from your beneficiaries creditors, etc., a trust may be the right tool for you. However, if the bulk of your assets are financial accounts and your home, and you simply want to avoid probate, you may be able to avoid probate without the use of a trust.