Estate Planning is More than Just “Death Planning”

Estate planning clients usually come to an attorney to eliminate taxes, avoid probate and provide for their family. We attorneys routinely help our estate planning clients achieve all of these goals. Most people, when they initially sit down with us, only see estate planning as death planning. But planning for your death is only part of the equation.  The other, potentially more critical part, is disability planning. With proper disability planning, if you cannot make your own decisions because of an accident of illness, your bills can be paid, your assets can be managed, and your health care decisions can be made by the people you love and trust the most.

Unfortunately, whether you are married or single, faulty and inadequate estate planning often results in a judge stepping in to make important decisions regarding your assets and estate; the family then loses a large measure of a very precious commodity: CONTROL. Estate planning attorneys not only focus on disability and death, but also strive to maximize your control during your lifetime and the control you want your loved ones to have at the time of your death.

In addressing both death and disability concerns, attorneys have a toolbox full of proven legal techniques to help your family reach all of your goals. 

These include:

• Revocable Living Trusts, 

• Wills, 

• Financial and Medical Powers of Attorney, 

• Living Wills (Advance Directives), 

• Designations of Guardians for minor children and 

• Special Needs Trusts for families with special needs adults.

Probate often comes with a substantial amount of legal, financial and emotional costs.  With careful estate planning clients can avoid most of these, at a time when their family most needs to feel in control.

A Revocable Living Trust is an instrument which is used to avoid estate taxes and probate litigation, by defining the current and future ownership of your assets in the trust.  The trust becomes owner of the property, although you may retain the power to buy, sell and trade, by naming yourself as initial trustee.  The property in the trust passes, according to the terms of the trust, as in a contract for insurance, and does not need to go through probate court for possession of the property to be transferred after your death.

A Will is the instrument which designates your wishes for payment of your debts, and passing of your property after your death.  It can also be used to designate your burial wishes and name guardians to care or your minor children.  A Will will dispose of all your property that is not contained in your Trust, if you have a Trust.

Financial and Medical Powers of Attorney allow you to name the person you trust to deal with your financial and/ or medical needs should you become temporarily or permanently unable to do so yourself.

Advance Directives allow you to express your wishes concerning continuing or discontinuing life-sustaining treatments such as feeding tubes and respirators, should you be diagnosed with a terminal condition from which you would die without such treatments.  

These are just brief descriptions of the tools that estate planning attorneys have to assist you with providing for your family’s needs, and your desires for the disposition of your property.  It is highly recommended that you make an appointment to meet with a competent estate planning attorney, familiar with the laws of your state of residence, before deciding which documents best meet your needs.  

This document does not constitute legal advice.  It is to be used for descriptive purposes only.  Please seek the advice of a competent lawyer in your state. Margie Connolly is a practicing attorney in Sugar Land, Texas. To schedule a free consultation, call (281) 433-9488 or visit