We often hold estate planning consultations with clients who are unsure of what – if anything – they need to do in regards to their plan for their family and assets after they pass away. Our goal in this article is to provide you with four specific steps you can take this month to ensure that your family and your assets are protected and cared for according to your wishes if something were to happen to you.
Review and Update Your Beneficiary Designations on All Accounts
A beneficiary designation is one of the means by which you can identify who should receive a particular asset upon your death. Assets that can pass by beneficiary designation often include life insurance policies and retirement accounts, and you typically create a beneficiary designation by filling in a blank on your application for the policy or account documentation. Unfortunately, if a beneficiary designation is overlooked or handled incorrectly, it can derail your intended estate plan. For example, a beneficiary designation trumps the terms of a last will and testament and many other estate planning documents. An attorney can advise you to ensure that your beneficiary designations do not undermine your ultimate wishes.
Ensure that Your Will is Valid and Locate Your Original Will
Texas law requires specific elements to be satisfied to consider a will valid. If you are unsure whether your will is valid under Texas law, an estate planning attorney can help. In addition, locate the original signed will and ensure that it is kept in a secure fireproof, and waterproof safe or location. While there are workarounds available, in general, Texas law highly prefers that your family provide the original (not a copy) of your will to the probate court upon your death. You should also make sure that your executor(s) know where your original will is located and how to access it when you pass.
Name Your Power of Attorney and Healthcare Agent
A thorough estate plan will prepare for more than death; it should prepare for your potential incapacity as well. Properly naming a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney as well as a Healthcare Power of Attorney will equip your loved ones to carry out your wishes in the event that you are alive but incapacitated such that you cannot make decisions for yourself. It is often a great relief for families to know who is authorized to make decisions for you.
Make Sure Your Trust is Funded
Trusts come in many shapes and sizes and are a common estate planning tool. While trusts can be an invaluable tool, they only work if the appropriate assets are put into the trust. The process of putting assets into the trust is called “funding” the trust. Unfortunately, we often find that a trust has been created but never funded. If your trust is not funded, it will not accomplish your estate planning goals. If you are unsure whether your trust is funded, an estate planning attorney can assist you with the next steps.