It was on a warm, sunny day at the country club that 50-year-old Sam, who had just hit a beautiful drive down the 14th fairway, suddenly fell to the ground. He had suffered a stroke. After lingering for 2 weeks, Sam regrettably passed away.
Sam, being only 50 years old, had not taken the time to do any estate planning. Thus, during that fortnight when he was in a coma and unresponsive, no one had authority to pay his bills. His sister in Alaska was the only person who could, by statute, make his health decisions and she had no idea of his medical history or his thoughts about being hooked up to machines to prolong his life. He had never asked anybody if they would be willing to serve as his guardian. After he died, his relatives could only guess whether he had wanted to be cremated or buried. His assets ended up going to his heirs at law.
The Magnificent Seven Estate Planning Documents
Sam could have benefited from the Magnificent Seven. Those are the basic estate planning documents that you need if you live in Texas: will, statutory durable power of attorney, medical power of attorney, HIPAA release, directive to physicians, declaration of guardian, and designation of burial agent.
A will gives your instructions on payment of your debts and division of your assets upon your death. It also names your choice for the independent executor for your estate. A will becomes effective only upon your death and after a judge has determined that the will is valid.
Statutory Durable Power of Attorney
This is the document where you name an agent to handle your financial affairs during your lifetime. Your agent’s authority extends only to those matters that you specifically name. You can choose whether your agent’s authority is immediately effective or is only triggered upon your incapacity. Signing a statutory durable power of attorney does not diminish your right to continue to handle your own financial affairs.
Medical Power of Attorney
This names an agent to make your medical decisions if you are unable to make them yourself.
This release names the people you have authorized to receive your medical information. It does not, by itself, give anyone authority to make decisions for you.
Directive to Physicians
The directive to physicians contains your instructions regarding whether you want your life prolonged through artificial means if you have been diagnosed with an irreversible condition or a terminal illness that is going to lead to your death within 6 months. The document can be tailored to certain situations or conditions. You can override your written directive at any time. If you are incapacitated and cannot make a decision, then it will be up to the agent you named in your medical power of attorney to make the final call.
Declaration of Guardian
This names the people you want to serve as the guardian of your estate and your person in the event you become incapacitated. This document also allows you to prohibit certain people from being appointed as your guardian.
Designation of Burial Agent
This document names the people you want to have authority to make the final arrangements for your body. You can describe the arrangements in detail, such as your remains being buried, cremated, or donated, and even leave instructions for memorial services, obituary, and post-service gatherings.
In golf, a mulligan is a second chance. Sam died before he could take a mulligan to do his estate planning. Are you on the same course?
Hammerle Finley Can Help With Your Estate Planning Needs
Virginia Hammerle is in her fourth decade of practicing law. She is Board Certified in Civil Trial by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and an Accredited Estate Planner. Contact her at email@example.com or visit www.hammerle.com. This column does not constitute legal advice.