Top 6 Legal Documents You Should Have In Place

Life insurance documents laid out on a table.

A lot of people have some extra time on their hands these days. Being stuck in the house means there’s no excuse not to finally get around to some of those projects that you knew you needed to do, but just never could make yourself address.  If you’ve already done all the gardening, cleaning, and closet sorting in your house, maybe now you can take some time to get your personal documents and estate planning in place.

Rights of Survivorship

Take a look online or in your home records: are your bank accounts joint accounts?  If so, do they have rights of survivorship on them, so that they pass to your spouse without the delay of probate?  Similarly, do your separate accounts have payable on death designations?  Do your IRAs, 401(k)s, and annuities have beneficiary designations on them?  Do they have contingent (secondary) beneficiaries, in case your primary beneficiary dies and you don’t have a chance to update your beneficiary choices?

Long-Term Care Insurance

Do you have long-term care insurance?  Have you spoken with a financial advisor regarding the advisability of getting this insurance, or the options available? Should you consider life insurance as a means of passing a legacy to your family?

Review Your Will

Take the time to review your will.  You do have a will, don’t you?  Make sure it still passes your property as you’d like, and that there are no changes in circumstances that need to be addressed.  Perhaps there are new family members since you originally drafted the Will, and they would benefit from a special needs trust.  Perhaps your children have become adults since you drafted the will, and one of them would be a more logical executor than your brother, or sister, or best friend.  Maybe one child would have need of a larger portion of your estate than the other child(ren).

Power of Attorney

Do you have a financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney?  Are you still on good terms with those named as agents, or would you rather other persons act on your behalf?  The state law regarding these documents was substantially changed and made more robust in 2017.  It is possible you would benefit from executing the new forms.

Financial Power of Attorney

Consider your possible need for help in the upcoming years.  Do you think a financial power of attorney will be enough to take care of your personal business, or would it be beneficial to have a trust in place for asset management purposes?

Your Loved Ones’ Documents

Do you have a failing parent who should have their own powers of attorney and Will?  Do you have a child who has recently turned 18?  He or she is now an adult and your authority to access his/her bank account or talk to doctors has expired. Your adult child should have his/her own powers of attorney and HIPAA release in place.

One word of caution:  If your documents are in need of revision, do not throw them out.  It is usually better to have some Will, or a power of attorney with a less-than-desirable agent, than to have no Will or agent at all.

If, for some reason, you have no will, remember that you are leaving a lot of important decisions in the hands of your legislators and judges. You don’t get to decide, for example, how your property passes, who will be in charge of paying your bills and distributing your estate, or who will be the guardian of your children.  Probate of your estate will also take longer and be more expensive.  It’s a basic rule of “adulting”: get your documents in place.

Now is the time to get around to it.  Our lawyers at Hammerle Finley can discuss estate planning needs via video conference and phone call – even better than social distancing – or an in-office conference.  If you contact us to set up a consultation (and mention this newsletter article) to occur during the time period of Texas’ “essential services only” mandate, we will even waive the normal consult fee!

Remember, the planning we undertake is not just for your benefit.  It provides instruction and comfort for your family.  Let us help.