Now that you have decided to create your Estate Plan, you want to be sure you cover all your bases and leave nothing out.
What questions should you ask yourself and what things should you be thinking about?
An experienced Estate Planning attorney will help you go over various scenarios and be certain you have everything covered in all the right documents. While not a comprehensive list, here are some of the things you should consider.
1. What are my assets? What are my debts?
Make a list and gather the information and documentation needed to identify all your assets and debts. Some accounts and assets are passed to beneficiaries instead of being named in a Will, such as life insurance policies. Make a list of these, too. This information will be needed by your Estate Planning attorney to make a comprehensive plan.
2. Who will be the executor of my Will?
Typically, your spouse is your primary executor if you are married. But other options might be one of your children or a sibling. Your executor’s job is to protect your property until debts and taxes are paid and then distribute what is left according to your wishes. Choose someone you trust. Your executor must be at least 18 years of age and of sound mind (meaning not judged incapacitated by a court). In Texas, you cannot name an executor who has been convicted of a felony or anyone whom the probate court decide has a conflict of interest. You can name a corporation as your executor, but it must be authorized to act as a fiduciary. You may want to name someone who lives near you. Your executor could be handling your estate for weeks, months, or sometimes longer. In Texas, a non-resident executor is required to appoint someone who lives in Texas to act as a “resident agent.”
3. Who’s getting what?
For most people, it isn’t difficult to decide who to leave things to, but there are still some things to consider. Maybe there is a certain possession with special meaning to one of your children. Do you have your mother’s or grandmother’s jewelry? You may want to pass that to a son for his future bride. Do you think your kids will fight over things? Maybe you want to leave more to one person than another. Cover all your bases and spell it all out in specifics.
4. What about the kids?
If you have young children, you will name a guardian for them in the event something happens to you. Consider this carefully. You’ll want to choose someone who is willing to take on the task of raising your children. But there’s more to think about. Should you choose someone in the same city so your children don’t have to move? Is the person you are thinking about someone your children are close to and feel secure with? Will this person raise your kids with your values?
5. Do I want to leave something to my grandchildren?
You may want to set up an educational trust or stipulate requirements before they receive their inheritance, such as reaching a certain age or graduating college. Depending on the size of your estate, you may need to appoint a conservator to manage any assets your children may inherit. You may want to explore the possibility of creating a trust for your children.
6. What about my kids from my first marriage?
The formulas typically used in Texas to divide a couple’s assets at death change when one or both spouses have been married prior and have children from the previous marriage. You want to be certain that your prior children are included along with children from your current marriage. Special arrangements can be made through your will and other estate planning documents to guarantee a share of your estate to prior children. This is an area where an experienced Estate Planning attorney can help you cover all the bases.
7. Do I want to leave something to charity?
Do you have a favorite charity or cause that you want to gift upon your passing? You may want to include a bequest to your church or your alma mater. If your estate is large enough, you might consider establishing a foundation or scholarship fund.
8. What about my business?
Who will run your business after your passing? Are you leaving stock to your spouse or children? Do you have partners or shareholders? You may need a buy-sell agreement that controls what happens to your interest in the business after your death. What happens if you leave your business to a family member who is not interested in keeping it open? Do you have any intellectual property (trademarks, patents, etc.)? An experienced Estate Planning attorney will help you create a solid exit strategy and succession plan for your company.
9. Do I have any special circumstances to think about?
The most common special circumstances that arise during Estate Planning are blended families and children with special needs. With a blended family, you may want to leave something to your stepchildren as well as to your biological children. Or, you may want to protect your biological children’s inheritance should your spouse remarry. If you have a child with special needs, you may need a trust structured in a way that lets your child continue to qualify for benefits like Social Security Disability, or that continues to pay for living facilities or medical care after you are gone.
10. Where can I find a good Estate Planning attorney?
There are many places to get information about Estate Planning attorneys. The Texas State Bar or local bar referral services are a good start. Ask your friends and family members for suggestions, too. Call the suggested offices and ask questions. Schedule a consultation and meet the attorneys and their staff. Choose an attorney who is a good fit for you, who is confident that he or she can help you. Trust your instincts. Choose a lawyer with a long-term relationship in mind. Estate Planning is not just a “one stop and done” event. As life happens and situations change, so will your Estate Plan. Having a solid relationship with one great attorney is easier than starting all over again when a new child or grandchild is born, when you experience a change in your financial circumstances or when changes in federal or state law make your estate plan outdated.
The attorneys at Tessmer Law Firm P.L.L.C. are experienced in Estate Planning and can assist you in making certain you have all possible scenarios covered. Our practice includes sophisticated Estate Planning issues such as high-asset estates, guardianship, conservatorship and establishing special needs trusts. Call 210-368-9708 today to schedule your confidential consultation.