The key to a bulletproof estate plan is well-organized documentation. But estate planning documents will not magically appear on their own. Whether your family consists of one person or a dozen people, it’s up to you to set aside some time to meet with a trusted estate planning lawyer and make sure you have all essential documents in order. Below are seven estate planning documents all families need to know about.
1) Texas Medical Power of Attorney (MOPA)
“Except to the extent you state otherwise, this document gives the person you name as your agent the authority to make any and all health care decisions for you in accordance with your wishes, including your religious and moral beliefs, when you are unable to make the decisions for yourself.” – Texas Health and Human Services (HHS)
Illness and injury often strike without warning, leaving many people unable to make sound healthcare decisions for themselves. Without the proper documents on hand, a stranger could end up making those decisions for you or your loved ones.
A Texas Medical Power of Attorney (MOPA) gives a person of your choosing legal permission to make healthcare decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. A MOPA also allows you to designate an alternate individual to make key healthcare decisions if your designated agent is not willing or able to act on your behalf.
2) Last Will and Testament
A Last Will and Testament outlines a person’s wishes regarding distribution of their assets. In this legal document, you can identify your beneficiaries and specify who will inherit your property after your passing. You can also designate an executor, or a person of your choosing who you trust to handle your property, make payments on your behalf, and ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes.
3) Letter of Intent
The purpose of a letter of intent is to provide specific details regarding your assets or plans related to your funeral arrangements. For example, a letter of intent may specify whether you wish to be buried or cremated, and who you would like to officiate your funeral service.
Letters of intent are typically less structured and formal than other estate planning documents and are usually written to a designated executor or beneficiary. A letter of intent can prove to be helpful in confirming your intentions and wishes.
4) A OOH-DNR Order
“The Out-of-Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate Order allows patients to direct health care professionals in the out-of-hospital setting to withhold or withdraw specific life-sustaining treatments in the event of respiratory or cardiac arrest.” – Texas Department of State Health Services
Texas residents are now able to legally decline attempts to resuscitate them should they become incapacitated at an outpatient facility, physician’s office, and other specified locations. If you would like to request that first responders refrain from using any resuscitation measures with you, then you can complete an Out-of-Hospital-Do-Not-Resuscitate-Order (OOH-DNR). This order must contain the appropriate signatures, including those of the person’s physician and two witnesses.
5) Pet Trust
Texas is home to over 7 million dogs and 5 million cats, making it one of the most pet-populous states in America. Texas law has recently evolved to include more pet trust planning options for pet owners. For example, you can set up a traditional pet trust or a statutory pet trust that reflects your wishes. You can also reference your wishes known in your Living Will and Testament outlined above.
6) Tax Returns for the Past 6 Years
Tax-related questions often surface after a person is incapacitated or dies. To help your loved ones respond to inquiries on your behalf, it is wise to store copies of your past six tax returns in a secure location.
While the IRS instructs taxpayers to “keep records for 3 years from the date you filed your original return or 2 years from the date you paid the tax,” they may decide to examine your tax returns from up to 6 years ago if there is any indication of underreported income or fraud.
7) A Written Summary of Your Documents
All the documentation in the world will be of little help to you and your loved ones if your documents are lost or impossible to retrieve. You can avoid this pitfall by preparing a document that serves as a guide or a table of contents for all of your estate planning documents. Make sure you store your summary in a secure location and provide your attorney and executor with a copy.
What is the best way to ensure your estate planning documents are in order?
Every Texas resident should be able to rest assured that their assets will be distributed exactly as they wish. Scheduling a consultation with an experienced Texas estate planning lawyer is the best way to ensure you have the proper documents to carry out your wishes. With the help of a skilled estate planning attorney, you can enjoy peace of mind knowing your assets will go to the people you know and love.
We invite you to reach out to us today to kick off your estate planning process. One of our lawyers will help you map out an estate plan that reflects your final wishes. Most important, we will make sure your have the estate planning documents you need to make your final wishes official.