The basics of Texas estate planning

While it is difficult to think of what life will be like after you pass away, it can bring peace of mind to know that you have thoughtfully made arrangements to settle your personal affairs. You can plan your estate in such a way that those who survive you will automatically be taken care of and your property will be distributed as you wish.

Of course, certain aspects of life can make estate planning more complicated. For example, someone with relative wealth or complex investments may need particularized legal advice to decide the best way to plan for transfer of his or her property. A large estate may require careful consideration of legal issues like lifetime gifts, trusts, estate and other taxes, and planned charitable giving.

Another circumstance that calls for precise direction by an experienced estate planning attorney is the disability or other quality of a child or other prospective heir or beneficiary. For example, a special needs trust may need to be set up for a person with severe impairments in order to preserve eligibility for public benefits or a spendthrift trust may be necessary for a child who may be irresponsible with spending.

But regardless of a Texan's wealth or other circumstances, almost everyone should have at least some basic estate planning documents executed and in place at any adult age: a will, a power of attorney, a declaration of guardian and a medical directive.

Texas wills

A will is a legal document that directs how and to whom a person's property is to be distributed upon his or her death. A will can also name the testator's (person writing the will) wishes about who should become the guardian for his or her minor children. Wills can also be used to set up trusts, which are legal arrangements when one person manages testator's property for the benefit of another. Texas law has specific requirements for how to draft and sign a will so as to be valid.

Texas powers of attorney

A power of attorney can designate a person who would become legally able to sign for the person appointing them in financial and other legal matters, should the appointing person become unable to care for their own affairs through incapacity. For example, a person with a power of attorney should be able to conduct business for the incompetent person at banks and similar businesses with control over that person's assets.

Texas declarations of guardian

A Texan may execute a legal document to direct that the court appoint a specific person of choice as guardian in case the writer becomes incapacitated and unable to care for his or her affairs.

Texas medical directives

Texas law provides for the execution of a written directive in which person can indicate whether he or she would want "life-sustaining treatment" in an emergency should he or she be unable to express his or her wishes and to appoint a person to make medical decisions for the writer in case of incompetence or inability to communicate. A similar appointment may be made under a medical power of attorney.

Seek legal advice

This document only begins to scratch the surface of Texas estate planning tools. Each Texan should seek the advice and counsel of an experienced Texas estate planning lawyer to assess his or her personal situation. An attorney can help develop a comprehensive estate plan that takes into account the amount and nature of assets and debts, potential heirs and beneficiaries, tax consequences and the client's wishes.