Estate Planning:  Taking Care of Your Personal Business

Article by Joanne Cassidy

Estate Planning does not have to be difficult or time consuming.  Although some people have very large or complicated estates that require more sophisticated planning, most of us don’t.  For the vast majority of Texas residents a well prepared Will, Durable Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney and Directive to Physician are all that’s needed to protect your family and to help them look after you should the need arise.

Estate Planning – Where To Start?

Call an Houston estate planning attorney or business attorney who is experienced in preparing the necessary documents.  Whenever I get the initial estate planning call from a client, I spend some time getting to know him.  I want to know the approximate value range of his estate, whether he is married or has children, if any children are minors or if any other beneficiaries may be unable to handle their finances.  Then, I explain the procedure and answer any questions he may have. If he is comfortable with the procedure, we will make an office appointment.

Procedure for Developing the Plan

After the initial telephone conversation, I email the client an Estate Planning Questionnaire. It’s a short questionnaire designed to help him think about some of the things we will be discussing at our office meeting. It is only a starting place and the client is not expected to have each question fully answered when we meet.

Office Meeting

During the office meeting, we sit in a comfortable environment and discuss the client’s wishes.  Referring to the questionnaire, the client will be asked to choose beneficiaries and designate which assets they will inherit, executors, guardians for any minor children, terms of any trust Children’s Trust Checklist that may be created by the Will, and the names, addresses and telephone numbers of those people he designates as agents for the Medical Power of Attorney and Durable Power of Attorney. I explain what to expect next and answer any questions he may have. The meeting typically lasts 30 minutes to an hour.

Document Preparation

Once I have all the information necessary to prepare the documents, I prepare them and email them to the client for review.  I ask him for any questions, comments or changes that he may have.  If he has any changes, which rarely happens, I make those changes and return the documents for a second review.

Execution of Documents

Once finalized, the client and I make arrangements to have him sign the documents.  He can sign them in my office or someplace else of his choosing.  The Will requires the signature of 2 witnesses, who cannot be beneficiaries, and a notary.  The remaining documents require only a notary signature and stamp.

Special Instructions

I always give clients special instructions and encourage them to call or email me if they have any questions later.  Instructions include:

  1. If you want changes to your Will, do not cross things out or write in the margins because they will not be recognized at probate; start over; simple changes can be made very quickly.
  2. Review your documents at least once a year to make sure they still comply with your wishes and that the agents are still the people you want to make decisions for you.
  3. Keep the documents in a safe place such as a home file cabinet or fire resistant safe; not in a safe deposit box unless someone else has access to the box.
  4. You do not have to show anyone your will or tell them what it contains.
  5. Tell your agents and executor and guardian, if any, that you have these documents and where they are located.
  6. You may make copies of the Medical Power of Attorney and give them to your health care providers.
  7. To help your executor determine what assets you have and where they are located, you may want to print and complete the Personal Financial Inventory on this website.  Keep the completed Inventory with your Will and periodically update it.

One Final Word

Finally, I hope this article has been helpful to you.  If you don’t have a Will and related documents, or you have them but they are several years old, I strongly encourage you to get together with an estate planning attorney or business lawyer to discuss your estate planning objectives and ease the burden on your family prior to when they need the most help.

Contact a Houston estate planning attorney.