By Anna Near, attorney at Saunders, Norval, Pargaman & Atkins
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of uncertainty to most aspects of daily life, not to mention how people envision their futures. More individuals are thinking about what would happen in the event they become sick, or worse, in the event of their deaths. Fortunately, there are plans you can implement now to save yourself and your loved ones a tremendous amount of time, financial resources, and grief down the road.
In Texas, every individual over the age of eighteen should have a Durable Power of Attorney and healthcare documents to plan for incapacity. A Durable Power of Attorney allows an individual to appoint an agent to handle financial matters for her or him. On the healthcare side, an individual can set out wishes regarding life-sustaining treatments in end-of-life scenarios in a Directive to Physicians and appoint an agent to make decisions about other healthcare matters in a Medical Power of Attorney.
Almost every person over the age of eighteen should also have a Will. A Will works a lot like an instruction manual and deed to dispose of a person’s property at death. One compelling reason to have a Will is that without one, court and attorneys’ fees will eat into a bigger portion of your estate, a portion that would otherwise pass to your loved ones or organizations you support.
Another compelling reason is to leave a legacy you’re proud of. If you die without a Will in Texas, your estate will pass according to statute, likely all to a select group of family members you did not choose. Additionally, the way your heirs will receive property–outright, instead of in trust–may be detrimental to their long term well-being. Close family members and friends, or causes that resonated with you and organizations you devoted yourself to during your life, may be left with nothing to remember you by.
There are even ways to combine the considerations mentioned above–taking care of your loved ones and providing for causes you care about—with a formal Will and estate planning. For example, making a bequest to create a donor advised fund at Austin Community Foundation and appointing family members and close friends to advise on how that money is distributed for years or even decades after a person’s death, remains one of my favorite ways for a client to establish a meaningful legacy. Charitable contributions and the donor advised fund are also among my favorite planning tools to mitigate estate taxes for larger estates.
Investing time in a comprehensive estate plan now—appointing agents to handle financial and healthcare decisions for you in the event of incapacity, and signing a Will for the disposition of your property at your death–will be far more than just a legal process. It will ultimately serve as a reminder of your love and care for family and friends at a time when they need it the most, as well as your legacy in the community.
Anna Near is an associate attorney at Saunders, Norval, Pargaman & Atkins. Her practice consists of estate planning and probate work, and she is involved extensively in philanthropic planning. She currently serves on the Board of Governors for the Austin Community Foundation and the Board of Directors for the Texas Book Festival.