Estate Planning 101: The 5 Documents Everyone Needs

Leif Olson, Attorney at Law

Most of us will never need corporate bylaws, or formal employment contracts, or (except for speeding tickets and jury duty) to see the inside of a courtroom. But that doesn’t mean that none of us will ever need to speak with a lawyer. The opposite is true: All of us, eventually, are going to come to the ends of our lives; many of us will face a serious illness along the way. None of us know when that will be — but only a lawyer can help us ensure that, when that time comes, we have protected our families with the five legal documents that everyone should have.

  1. Will.  Most of us are familiar with wills: A will distributes the property that you own to the beneficiaries that you select. It appoints an agent, the executor, to distribute that property and manage it until it is distributed. Without a will, your property will not necessarily be distributed as you would like, but as the Texas Legislature has set out in the Estates Code. If you have minor children, your will is where you should name a guardian for them. The probate process in Texas is streamlined, enabling wills to be flexible and easily administered, without the large expense that has historically been the case.
  2. Durable Power of Attorney.  A power of attorney appoints someone to act on your behalf; a durable power of attorney appoints an agent to manage your property if you become unable to do so. (“Attorney” is just an English version of an old French word for “appointee.”) The appointment is durable because it is ongoing — it doesn’t expire if you lose the ability to manage your property. In fact, it is usually drafted so that it doesn’t take effect until you lose that ability. If something robs you of the ability to manage your property, a properly drafted durable power saves your family the time and expense of going to the probate court to have a guardianship established to manage your property.
  3. Medical Power of Attorney.  Just as the durable power of attorney appoints someone to manage your property, a medical power of attorney appoints someone to manage your person if you can’t do so anymore. This agent has the power to make medical decisions — for instance, on types of treatments, medications, surgeries, and hospitalizations — on your behalf. If you lose the ability to make medical decisions for yourself, a properly drafted medical power saves the time and expense of having a guardianship over your person created.
  4. Physician’s Directive.  A physician’s directive, also known as a living will, tells your doctors, family, and medical agent how to handle your medical care in certain situations. Though it can cover any conceivable medical situation, it is usually used to let others know whether you would like medical care withheld if you have a terminal or irreversible condition. This directive saves your family the heartache of having to guess at your end-of-life wishes and helps prevents the rancor that can develop if family members disagree on your wishes.
  5. HIPAA Release.  The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prohibits hospitals and health-care professionals from disclosing your medical information and records. A HIPAA release instructs them to release that information to your family or medical agent. Without that release, they must make decisions about your health care without being able to see your medical history.

Long-Term Care Insurance is NOT for YOU

By Ruben Perez

“I will never need long-term care!”

Rarely true.  Only three out of ten Americans over 65 can make this statement. The rest of us (a little over 70%) will need some sort of extended care in our sunset years , either in the comfort and familiarity of our own homes or in a paid facility.  For those of us in the 70%, there are four options for getting the care we will need:

  1. Asking Family for Help
  2. Relying on the Government
  3. Using Up Our Own Assets
  4. Buying Insurance

November was long term care insurance awareness month.  Over the next few months, I will briefly explore the practical implications of the various options for funding our long term care needs.  The present article will address the option of asking family for help.

Long-term care, or extended care, is assistance needed
due to the mental or physical decline associated with aging,
a lengthy illness and/or recovery period, or a severe cognitive
disorder, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.  These conditions
can leave us unable to perform certain of the six activities
of daily living (ADLs.)  ADLs include the inability to perform
any of the following functions without assistance:  walking,
eating, bathing, dressing, toileting,  or transferring.

“My family will take care of me.”

Many people plan on asking a family member or close friend to provide aid to them in their older age. As we get older, our bodies and minds slowly deteriorate. That is a hard fact for most of us to swallow, but it is true. Things we used to be able to do when we were younger are not so easy to do anymore, and for some of us, they can become completely impossible. Decision-making gets more stressful, and confusion and uncertainty set in. At some point, most of us will need assistance doing everyday chores, and even caring for our own personal hygiene (showering, grooming, toileting and the like).

Loved ones who become caregivers end up putting their careers, families, and lives “on hold” to provide for our care. They take off more often from work to care for us; they give up time they could and should be spending with their own families to care for us; and, they devote their “free time” to caring for us. Do you want to put this burden on your spouse, son, daughter, relative, or friend?  Why not put a plan in place to maintain your independence and ensure that the people you care about most do not become burdened with your care?