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Estate planning doesn’t often appear on people’s to-do lists, pandemic should change that


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Texas Border Business

Texas has 1 million coronavirus cases, the most of any state, amid an unprecedented surge that resulted in more than 6,000 people statewide hospitalized on Sunday with COVID-19. As a result, many low-income families are realizing they don’t have the legal documents that will help them pay bills or take care of family members when a loved one is seriously ill or dies.

Estate planning is a way to prepare for the unexpected and can prevent the need for an expensive court case.

Here, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid explains 12 legal documents that Texans should consider having to help themselves and the people they care about if the worst happens. It is always best to consult an attorney about specific circumstances. However, the cost of legal services does not have to be a barrier.

Most of the forms and instructions listed below are available in English and Spanish.

LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT tells the court who you want to get your things after you die. It also tells the court who you want to be in charge of making sure your bills are paid, and your property goes to the right people.

If you do not have a will, and you have not made other plans for your property, your property may not go to the people you want to take care of.

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Forms and instructions: https://texaslawhelp.org/article/do-it-yourself-guide-handwritten-wills


DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY lets you choose who can pay your bills, access your bank account, talk to your insurance company, speak to your employer, and hire a lawyer if you are not able because of a medical condition.

If you do not have a durable power of attorney and something happens to you, then your family will have to hire a lawyer and go to court so they can handle your finances. You might lose your insurance, be evicted, or face foreclosure. If you need to enroll in Medicaid, for example, your family won’t be able to complete the application.

Forms and instructions: https://texaslawhelp.org/article/powers-attorney-information-and-answers


TRANSFER-ON-DEATH DEED lets you choose who gets title to your home after you die.  If you have a transfer on death deed, your family does not have to go to court to probate a will.

If you have a will and someone doesn’t probate the will in court, then your home may not go to the person you want to have it.  Also, the mortgage company will not talk to that person unless they have proof they own the home.

Forms and instructions: https://www.texasatj.org/texas-transfer-toolkit

BENEFICIARY DESIGNATION OF A MOTOR VEHICLE lets you pick a person who obtains the title to your car after you die.

If you have a will, it can take a long time and be expensive to go through the probate process. If you don’t have a will, the person you want to get your automobile may not be able to obtain the title.

Forms and instructions: https://www.texasatj.org/texas-transfer-toolkit

PAYABLE-ON-DEATH BENEFICIARY DESIGNATION allows you to choose the person who acquires (1) the money in your bank account after you die, (2) your life insurance proceeds, and (3) your retirement benefits.

Your loved ones may need access to your funds to pay funeral expenses and bills. A will takes a long time to probate and doesn’t allow quick access to the funds. If you don’t have a will, the person you want to access your funds may not be able to.

Naming a Custodian: If you want to leave money for a child’s care, you will need to name a custodian. Otherwise, a court proceeding may be required to determine who can manage the money for the child.

Forms and instructions: There isn’t one form. You can contact your bank and ask them to fill out a payable on death beneficiary. For life insurance, contact the company ask to confirm or update your beneficiary. For retirement assets, contact the administrator for the account to confirm or update your beneficiary.

For any of these forms, if you want the money to go to a minor child, you can say: “to [name of custodian] as the custodian for [name of minor child] under the Texas Uniform Transfer to Minor Act.”

MEDICAL POWER OF ATTORNEY lets you choose a person to make medical decisions for you if a doctor says you cannot do so.

If you do not have a medical power of attorney, then someone you don’t trust may be making medical decisions for you. Or someone will have to hire a lawyer to go to court to get the power to make decisions for you.

Forms and instructions: https://texaslawhelp.org/article/medical-power-attorney-information-and-answers-common-questions


RELEASE OF HEALTH INFORMATION (HIPAA RELEASE) lets you decide who can access your health records if you cannot. Doctors won’t talk to your family if you don’t give them permission with a HIPAA release.

Forms and instructions: https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/sites/default/files/files/divisions/consumer-protection/hb300-Authorization-Disclose-Health-Info.pdf

DESIGNATION OF GUARDIAN FOR A MINOR CHILD IN THE EVENT OF INCAPACITY OR DEATH tells the court who you want to care for your child and who should control any money or property for the care of that child. The person you choose must still file for guardianship in court.

Sometimes there are disputes about who will take care of a child.  The designation of a guardian tells the court your preference.

Forms and instructions: https://texaslawhelp.org/file/2213/download?token=qD4tdeR_

DIRECTIVE TO PHYSICIANS tells your loved ones and your doctors how to proceed if you have a terminal or irreversible condition. If you can’t communicate your wishes, your family may not know your end-of-life decisions.

Forms and instructions: https://texaslawhelp.org/article/directive-physicians-texans-information-and-answers

SUPPORTED DECISION-MAKING AGREEMENT can help someone with a disability. If you have a disability, the agreement allows you to select someone to help you get information, understand information, and communicate information.

People with certain disabilities sometimes need help to meet their basic needs. This document tells doctors, insurance companies, and others that you need this specific person to help you.

Forms and instructions: https://texaslawhelp.org/resources/supported-decision-making-forms

DECLARATION FOR MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT helps you determine the course of treatment at a psychiatric hospital. People may be taken to a psychiatric hospital if someone thinks they are experiencing is a mental health crisis. If that happens, a declaration for mental health treatment can specify which treatments you do not want and which treatments are acceptable.

Forms and instructions: https://hhs.texas.gov/laws-regulations/forms/miscellaneous/form-dmht-declaration-mental-health-treatment

An APPOINTMENT FOR DISPOSITION OF REMAINS lets you pick who gets custody of your remains. It can help avoid or resolve disputes about who makes decisions over final arrangements.

Forms and instructions: https://tfsc.texas.gov/files/Forms/Appointment%20to%20Control%20Disposition.pdf

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