Pro Tips: Estate Planning

By Kate Broussard

Originally appeared in Beaumont Junior League Magazine

In the prime of your life, it is never fun to stop and ask yourself what will happen if something happens to you. But I’m asking you to do just that. The world is unpredictable, and when you take control and plan for the future, you put your family in a better position.

This shouldn’t be a morbid topic, but one of taking charge. So I want to give you some tips to help decide if it is time to start your estate planning journey. Before we get started, you need to know that Estate planning is an all-encompassing term that includes a Last Will and Testament as well as all of the beneficiary designations on accounts, all disability documents dealing with what happens if you were alive but incapacitated, and any business entities that you may own and their succession plans. These documents should work together seamlessly to insure that your wishes are carried out.

1. Do you have children? Major life events help shape the need for an estate plan. Especially the birth of a child. If you are a parent, I’m sure you have realized just how much your child relies on you. If something were to happen to you or the other parent, where would your child go and who would take care of him or her? These questions are incredibly important and should be the driving force toward the appointment of a future guardian for your children. But that’s not the only consideration. Your children need financial assistance, someone to safeguard and take care of their assets. If your child suddenly inherited money or a house, someone would need to manage those assets and protect that value. Creating a will or even signing a separate designation of guardian document allows you to take control over who cares for your children and who manages your children’s assets. With a little planning you can have the peace of mind that they will be well taken care of no matter what happens.

2. Do you have a blended family? Creating a will is especially important for people with a blended family. If you have kids from a previous marriage or if your spouse does, it’s time to talk to an estate planning lawyer. Under Texas law, dying without a will means that your assets may pass one-half to the surviving spouse and one-half to the kids. Unless you or your spouse want to own land, the house or a business jointly with step-children, it’s time to be proactive.

3. Do you have a family member with disabilities? Planning becomes much more important when you help care for a person with a disability. There are specific planning techniques to ensure that disabled people who are receiving government benefits will not become disqualified for their benefits even if they were to inherit money or property. If no plan is in place, the person typically loses his or her benefits until the inheritance is completely spent. Taking the time to plan for this situation should be a no brainer. There are also techniques to help avoid appointing a guardian in the future, which can be costly.

4. Do you own real property? For those of you that have entered the world of home ownership or own commercial property, you know that property does not take care of itself. You also know how many hoops you likely had to jump through before you finally received your deed. If something happens to you, steps must be taken to clear title to the property and transfer your ownership to your beneficiaries or heirs. If you die without a will, those family members inheriting your property may be forced to go to the court to prove that they are entitled to the property. Not only is this process more time consuming, but it is also a lot more expensive when you do not have a will or other plan in place.

5. Do you own a business? If you own a business, do you have a succession plan in place? Business owners often have more things to consider in an estate plan. Not only do they have assets of their own, but the future of the business may very well depend on whether a plan is in place. Considerations such as who can step in and make decisions for the business if something happens to you are vitally important to ensure the business can continue to operate or be sold in the event that you can no longer operate it.

6. Is privacy important? Many people do not realize that your assets could be listed in the public record upon your death. If the thought of the general public being able to see a list of your worldly possessions freaks you out, then you should plan ahead. There are techniques and procedures that can be used to keep a person’s possessions out of the public eye after death. This doesn’t happen by accident, you will need to plan for it.

7. Would you like money to go to charity? For those of you that love to give back to the community and support charitable causes, you may want to consider leaving a donation to your favorite organization upon your death. If you believe in giving back to the community, why would that change if something were to happen to you? There are many different options for continuing to donate to charities, but these are only options if you have an estate plan in place. Maybe you want your appreciated stocks to go to the Red Cross or maybe you want to leave a specified amount of money to the Salvation Army. Either way, this only happens if you take the time to put a plan in place so that a portion of your assets can have a lasting impact after your death.

Kate Broussard is an associate attorney at MehaffyWeber in the firm’s business practice group. Her practice focuses on estate planning and probate law, elder law and real estate and business transactions. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Ms. Broussard or any of the experienced attorneys at MehaffyWeber, please contact us today.