When Jimi Hendrix went to sleep on September 18, 1970, he didn’t expect to wake up dead. Before his accidental barbiturate-related death at age 27, Jimi is known to have been one of the world’s highest paid performers. Jimi did not have a will. This lack of estate planning added a level of complexity to the recently settled six-year court battle over his trademark. You don’t have to have a trademark to cause your heirs to fight over your estate. Just ambiguous or nonexistent estate planning can be an effective fuel to torch your hopes for smooth handling of your estate after your demise.
Not interested in Jimi? How about Abraham Lincoln, Sonny Bono, Pablo Picasso, Steve McNair, Stieg Larsson, Michael Jackson and Howard Hughes. They all died without a will.
Having a will saves your heirs a lot of money and heartache. But a will is just one of the useful estate plan documents. Here’s a list of the five basic estate-planning documents you should have.
- Last Will & Testament
This document tells the world how you want your estate to be distributed, who your beneficiaries are and how dividing your estate will be handled. You are not required to hire a lawyer, but there are pitfalls in a homemade will. After your death, you will not be available to explain yourself or clarify any technicality. Since there is little room for mistake in a will, you are better off hiring an attorney.
- Living Will – Directive to Physician
This document is designed to communicate your wishes about medical treatment at a point in the future when you are unable to communicate your wishes due to illness or injury. In short, this is an end-of-life document that directs the doctor not to put you on life support. It tells the doctor that you don’t want to be kept artificially alive by artificial means.
- Statutory Durable Power of Attorney (POA)
As of January 1, 2014, Texas has a new Statutory Durable Power of Attorney. With this form, you, the Principal, can grant a power of attorney to someone (your Agent) for all aspects of your personal and financial affairs or just for specific activities and situations. Be careful to choose a trustworthy Agent. On the flip side, if you are chosen to be an Agent, you must, among other duties, act in good faith, be loyal for the benefit of the Principal and not overreach the authority you are granted. If you as the Principal sign this form without specifically initialing the powers, then no powers are granted. The powers are fairly wide ranging and include such topics as litigation, benefits from Social Security & Medicare, retirement plan transactions, tax matters, real property, investments and business operations. When the document specifically states that it is durable, it will be effective until your death. The powers you grant with this form will survive your mental incapacity from such conditions as dementia, Alzheimer’s or a head injury from a car crash. The powers will cease when you revoke it, your Agent resigns or a guardianship over you is established.
- POA for Health Care
This document deals with medical, hospital and health care kinds of decisions. You would want one of these if you want to make sure someone you trust will be able to legally make health care decisions for you when you cannot do so on your own. Be sure to pick someone who understands your preferences and will carry out your desires when you are not able to do so. You should give this to your doctor, your attorney, your spouse and your children. You should store it in several locations. You can carry it with you on a flash drive, but be sure the electronic copy on the flash drive is signed and notarized.
- HIPAA Release/Authorization
HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. In 1996, doctors, hospitals and dentist got nervous about liability and started insisting upon your signing a HIPAA release so they could talk with your loved ones about your condition, diagnosis and the like. Now HIPAA releases are very common. Your health care providers cannot discuss any part of your medication information with anyone who is not directly involved with your health care. If you are in the hospital and have not signed a HIPAA release, your doctor cannot give your loved ones information about your condition.
These are the main estate planning documents. You may need additional documents that I have not covered here, but you will need to get that information from an estate-planning attorney. Jimi Hendrix didn’t ask me for an attorney referral, but you can.