A Will Isn’t Enough: This and Other Important Revelations About Your Life’s Files
By Felicia D. Pinkney
Raise your hand if you, too, had parents who said, “As long as you live in my house, you’ll live by my rules.”
And every time they repeated it, you grew more anxious for your 18th birthday. It didn’t matter that being an adult came with a few more responsibilities; you were just ready to do things your way.
Fast forward a few years past age 18. Mom’s not telling you to eat your veggies, but you’re thinking more about your future, which may include lots of travel, a home, marriage, and kids – not necessarily in that order.
Although you are now doing things your way, there are still rules to follow and things to do to get your affairs in order – particularly when it comes to estate planning.
To get you started, here’s our guide to five legal documents you need right now. Contact your Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent for free access to an estate planner.
No. l: A will
Nobody likes to think about death, but it’s inevitable. That’s why it’s smart to have a will drawn up by an attorney.
A will explains what to do with your belongings after your death. If you want your house to go to a family member and your money to fund a scholarship at your alma mater, spell it all out in your will.
“Everyone needs a will,” says Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent Brian Frizzell, who is based in Tom Green County. “If you do not have a will, the State of Texas will make those decisions for you when you die.”
In your will, you can also specify who you want to care for your children and pets. Be sure to convey your plans to those involved.
“When someone dies, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made in a very short period of time,” Frizzell says from his San Angelo office. “The more you can take care of before you die, the easier you will make it on your loved ones.”
Review your will periodically with your attorney and update it on an as-needed basis.
No. 2: A living will
While a regular will determines what to do after your death, a living will outlines the types of life-prolonging medical treatment you want – or don’t want – if you become terminally ill and cannot make medical decisions for yourself.
For example, if you want to be kept alive on life support or would rather that those measures not be taken, say so in this document.
A living will is also called an advance directive. Hospitals don’t require you to sign one, but advance directives ensure that your wishes will be carried out at a time when you may not be able to communicate them yourself.
And it used to be that you needed a witness to also sign off on your advance directive. But the Texas Department of State Health Services now says that a notary’s stamp is OK as well as your digital or electronic signature.
A copy of your living will should go to your attorney, doctor, hospital representative, and a family member or spokesperson.
No. 3: Medical power of attorney
A medical power of attorney goes hand in hand with the living will. In this document, you appoint an individual to carry out the wishes outlined in your living will. That person then becomes your healthcare agent or proxy and makes medical decisions for you only if you are unable to do so.
This document is often referred to as a durable power of attorney for healthcare and is not to be confused with a power of attorney (see No. 4) that allows someone to make financial decisions on your behalf.
Copies of the medical power of attorney should also go to your attorney, doctor, and healthcare agent.
No. 4: Statutory durable power of attorney
As mentioned above, this document allows your designated agent to manage your financial affairs. These include the following types of transactions and more: banking, retirement, taxes, property, stocks and bonds, and Social Security and other government benefits.
Also, if you own a business, this document authorizes your agent to make those types of transactions on your behalf.
You do, however, have the right to withhold certain powers from one agent and grant them to someone else.
Be as detailed as possible about your wishes, and then appoint the person who you believe will carry them out. But get sound advice from your attorney before you sign over these rights to someone else.
Your attorney and agent should get a copy of this document.
No. 5: Declaration of guardianship
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, a court may appoint a guardian for anyone “who has become mentally or physically incapable of making personal or financial decisions.” Guardianship gives the court appointee the right to make personal, legal, and financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.
However, if you have the medical power of attorney and the statutory durable power of attorney, you may not have to worry about a state-appointed guardian. The Texas Department of State Health Services says that, in many cases, the medical power of attorney serves as guardian of the person and the statutory durable power of attorney serves as guardian of the estate.
Another alternative to the court-appointed guardianship is a document called a Declaration of Guardian that allows you to appoint your own guardian in the event that you later become incapacitated.
Your attorney and guardian should keep a copy of this document, too.
Also: Funeral or memorial preferences
Although listing your funeral or memorial preferences isn’t a legal document, it’s helpful to let family members know what kind of funeral service you prefer, Frizzell says.
“[Tell them] if you want to be buried or cremated, have a big funeral or small one,” he says.
Plus, it can ease their burden during this often stressful time.
If you’re an organ donor or want your body to be donated to a medical institution, convey that in your funeral wish list.
You can even plan what kind of music you want, who your pallbearers should be, and the clothes you wish to be dressed in.
A copy of this document should go to your spouse, parent, or appointed guardian.
So let’s say you filed all the documents with your attorney. Now what?
“No matter what documents you have, none of them do any good unless someone can find them,” Frizzell says. “Everyone needs to share this information with an attorney. Make sure that the executor of your estate knows where to find your will and important documents.”
Store copies of all your documents in a safe place where a trusted friend or relative can access them.
And to make these documents effective, get the required signatures from witnesses and a notary, if applicable.
WHEN TO UPDATE YOUR INSURANCE INFO
Things change all the time, and when they do, make sure your insurance is current. Update your insurance when life-changing events occur. These include:
- Change of address
Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent Brian Frizzell says beneficiaries should be reviewed and updated every couple of years.
If a life-changing event occurs sooner, update beneficiary information as soon as possible.
Copyright 2011, Texas Heritage for Living®