Estate planning relies on certain basic documents

Experts generally recommend certain basic documents to prepare for one's later years and for distribution of one's estate at death. These estate planning tools are a simple will, durable power of attorney, advanced medical directives, a living trust and a letter of instructions. The same instruments are generally necessary in Texas and all other states.

The will is the most basic and most popularly recognized legal instrument in this context. It is a directive to one's designated personal representative to distribute the assets and pay the bills at death. A will does not become operative until death, and can be modified or re-done at any time prior to death.

The will can contain what is called a testamentary trust in which a trustee holds certain assets in trust for the use of a beneficiary. The trustee may provide payments for the welfare of the beneficiary and then make a final distribution of the trust corpus when the beneficiary reaches a specified age. The durable power of attorney gives the "attorney in fact" the power to sign the maker's name to legal papers, checks, and other legal instruments. This allows carrying out his basic activities if he becomes disabled.

Considerable expenses can be saved by not asking the court to appoint a guardian to administer the person's affairs. Advanced medical directives can contain a living will, a power of attorney for health care decisions, and a order. The living will says what to do if life extension measures are required to keep one alive when brain death occurs. The power of attorney allows someone else to make medical decisions for the maker.

The revocable inter vivos trust operates while the maker is still alive. The assets are put into the ownership of the trust, under the owner's ultimate control, and distributed according to the trust terms. The assets in the trust at death do not go through the estate administration process. The letter of instructions simply tells the estate representatives what to do and where to find one's records and documents at the time of death. This basic estate planning framework applies in Texas and elsewhere.

Source:, "Dorion-Gray: Be sure to have these five estate planning documents at all times", Paula Dorian-Gray, March 27, 2014

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