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A will is what most people think of when they think of estate planning.  A will sets out who will inherit (the heirs), what (assets) they will inherit, and how they will inherit (whether outright or in trust) upon the death of the testator (person who wrote the will).

A will becomes effective upon death.  Many people stress about the finality of a will and decide to do nothing because they are so worried about it being final.  I am sure that is why most people do nothing and let the legislature decide who will inherit their estate under the terms of our Estates Code.

I encourage my clients to do their best to execute their wills with the best information they have now. One thing we can be sure of is that life will change. Our children grow up. They may marry, divorce, and have kids of their own. With each life change, it is important for us to reassess if we need to change the terms of our will and/or who will act as executor to carry out our wishes.  A will becomes final upon death, but we can make changes to a will as long as we have the capacity to do so.

Incapacity Planning

Having helped my grandparents and mother through illnesses in their final years, I feel strongly that an estate plan is not complete unless you have all the documents you need at your fingertips.  Knowing what will happen to your stuff after you die is important, but what if you are incapacitated and someone needs the power to assist you while you are incapacitated?
Your key incapacity documents should include a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney (Financial Power of Attorney-sets out your agent for financial matters), Medical Power of Attorney (who makes medical decisions for you if you can't), HIPAA Release and Authorization (who can access your medical records), Directive to Physicians, and Declarations of Guardian (for you and your children).

I also remind my clients of the importance of these documents for their adult children.  I have had a child spend most of her junior year, not just at the University of Texas, but studying on the other side of the world.  Since we had her key documents in place, it was easy for me to access and make changes to her accounts upon her request.   She was so relieved I could do so when she had internet issues and a 13-hour time difference complicate matters.