Everyone has an estate. Your estate consists of everything you own including your personal property from your toothbrush to the most expensive real estate you can imagine. It is your stuff! Your estate can also contain stuff that you cannot see or touch. These are things like copyrights, royalty rights, intellectual property etc.
Estate planning is the thought process that you put into determining how you will distribute your property upon your death. Will you leave all of your property to a spouse? What about your children? How about your grandchildren? What if you don't want to decide, but instead you want them to sort it all out after your death? Another part of estate planning, a part that is often forgotten, is planning how to handle your affairs and property if you are permanently or temporarily disabled. It includes planning for Medicaid claims if you must spend time in a nursing home. What if you are able to live at home but need constant care? Who will be the guardian of your person? Who will be the guardian of your estate? What about your children if something happens to you? Do you want to be kept alive on a ventilator?
Having an estate plan, as you can see, is important no matter how much wealth you attain or have. It is, at its core, a gift to your loved ones. The estate plan allows you to tell your family and friends, doctors and caretakers what you want in the event you cannot make decisions.
Wills & Estate Plans for Single People
A single person should have an estate plan. The plan should consist of at least the following documents: (1) Last Will and Testament, (2) Statutory Durable Power of Attorney, (3) Pre-need Designation of Guardian, (4) Medical Power of Attorney, (5) Disposition of Remains, and (6) Physician's Directive. You should know too that, unless you have gobs and tons of money and assets worth over 11 million dollars, you likely do not need a Trust. If you own real estate (homes or land) there are much simpler and much less expensive alternatives now under Texas law than creating a Trust. The best example is a Transfer on Death Deed. The Transfer on Death Deed receives a more detailed discussion below.
As a single person, you must give careful consideration to who you will give the responsibility to be the executor in your will. But, more importantly, you must have faith and trust in a person whom you choose to hold your powers of attorney. You may choose a trusted family member, but you do not have to. Whomever you choose, you should make sure they know your wishes and share your values.
A single person must also know that subsequent marriage does not automatically change any document in your estate plan. Divorce voids gifts to your spouse left in a Will, but that is all. If you create an estate plan, and you should, remember to change it if you desire changes upon marriage.
If you are a single person with children, the same considerations discussed below about children apply to you as well.
Wills & Estate Plans for Married People
Marriage in Texas does not automatically insure that all of your property goes to your spouse if you die. The state legislature provides a plan for you if you do not have a will. Divorce will void gifts you leave your spouse in a will, but nothing more. For example, if you have children with one spouse or other person and then later marry someone else and die without a will, your children from the prior relationship receive half of your property save some exceptions for the spouse granted by the Texas Constitution. If you have children from a prior relationship to your current spouse, it is a very important and loving gift from you to have a complete estate plan that states clearly your intentions and desires.
The plan should consist of at least the following documents: (1) Last Will and Testament, (2) Statutory Durable Power of Attorney, (3) Pre-need Designation of Guardian, (4) Medical Power of Attorney, (5) Disposition of Remains, and (6) Physician's Directive. If you have children under 18, you and your spouse (or your children's other parent if you are not married) should predesignate a person who to server as the guardian of your children if you become disabled or die.