Incredibly, over 60 percent of Americans don’t have a will. Even more alarming is that more than half of Americans aged 55 to 64 don’t have one. The most common reasons for not having a will include procrastination, the belief that it’s unnecessary, and the perceived cost.
Do you actually need a will or estate plan? To answer, let’s first examine what happens when you die without a will. Dying without a will is technically referred to as dying “intestate.” When this happens, it is the law that dictates the distribution of your “estate” and its assets. This means that there’s no guarantee that your estate will be distributed as you desire. It also means that probate of your estate will be more time-consuming and costly because probate court of an intestate estate involves more probate court involvement and supervision. This is especially true if any part of your estate passes to a minor — anyone under age 18. If that happens, then the probate court will create a court-supervised trust. Under Texas law, property cannot pass directly to anyone who is not at least 18 years old. That’s where estate planning comes in. By executing a will with the assistance of an estate lawyer, you rest assured that your estate will be properly distributed or maintained after your death. You can use your will to create a trust and designate the trustee in case any of your estate passes to someone who is under 18. You can also designate a guardian for your minor children in case you die before they turn 18.
The ideal estate lawyer will ask about your goals and desires regarding the estate. He will then suggest effective ways to achieve these goals. Some people may want to leave a piece of property behind to a close friend, while others may want everything to go to their immediate family. The point is that each person has a different goal, so if you want to distribute your estate in a particular way but aren’t sure how to do it, you’ll definitely want a competent estate lawyer on your side. You also want to be sure that the designated beneficiaries on assets that will pass outside your estate are aligned to dovetail with your will. A good estate attorney will guide you and help you plan for any and all contingencies.
Estate planning is about more than just end-of-life events. Statistically, most of us are far more likely to suffer a disability or incapacitating illness than die. If you become terminally ill or suffer from dementia, who will make healthcare decisions for you? Who will manage your assets? Who will pay your bills? If you don’t plan for these possibilities, then your family or a friend will have to initiate a guardianship proceeding, a court-supervised process that can be time-consuming and costly. To avoid this, there are a number of planning options you can consider: medical power of attorney; durable power of attorney; directive to physicians; out-of-hospital do-not-resuscitate. An experienced attorney will help you make the right choices for you.