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Simple will and estate planning docs need regular tune-ups

It's advisable to keep one's estate planning documents up-to-date by taking them in for regular checkups with an experienced estate planning attorney. Some of the documents in one's plan may be a simple will, healthcare directives, powers of attorney, a living will and a revocable trust. A legal instrument may need changes when time and circumstances cause new configurations. The principles and procedures are generally the same in Texas and elsewhere.

If the reader has no estate plan, it's not too late to start a basic plan and execute the necessary documents. If the reader already has a completer or partial plan, this new spring season may be an enticing time to take the documents in for a "tune-up". Perhaps the one legal instrument that most people readily recognize is the simple will.

A person's last will and testament appoints someone to administer her estate upon her death. That appointee is called an executor (male) or executrix (female), or may generically be called the personal representative. The will tells the personal representative to distribute the assets in stated percentages to the individuals listed. If a beneficiary is a minor, the will can contain a testamentary trust provision appointing a trustee to hold the assets until the minor reaches a specified age or ages.

Remember that when assets are titled in the name of "husband and wife," or as joint tenants with the "right of survivorship" then the surviving joint owner becomes the sole and exclusive owner upon he other's death. That property does not get administered through the decedent's estate. Furthermore, any accounts and life insurance proceeds that list a specific beneficiary are distributed at death directly to the beneficiary and not through the estate.

These general concepts apply in Texas and nationwide. When taking the docs in for a tune-up, check to see if the beneficiaries are still applicable, and be prepared to change the appointments and gifts in the simple will and other documents where changes are necessary or desirable. It's also wise to prepare a letter of instructions to the personal representative and others with instructions on the location and identity of all assets and legal documents.

Source: The State-Journal Register, Financial planning: Taking your estate plan in for a tune-up, Jeffrey V. Manderscheid, March 12, 2014

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