Probate options in Texas

Sam Moak

Editor's Note: The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law. Any readers with a legal problem, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult an attorney for advice on their particular circumstance.

As hot as it is this summer, and its only the end of June, this maybe a good time to reorganize the closets, clean out those old files in the cabinet, and get rid of all those boxes in the garage. Call it “Extended Spring Cleaning” if you will. Anytime someone “Spring Cleans” seems to be a good time to take stock and start fresh...at least in the home. But what about with your health?

I am not talking about the diet you vowed to follow in your New Year’s Resolution, or trying to look good in that new bathing suit this summer; what I am talking about is your annual checkup—taking stock of your health with your primary care physician and making sure you are both on the same page with your instructions for health care and your advanced healthcare directive or living will.

When clients come into our office for an estate plan, we ensure that their healthcare instructions are completed as well. But the job doesn’t end when the document is signed. We tell our clients their health care providers need to be aware of their wishes as well. The best way to ensure that they know and understand your wishes is to take a copy of your advanced healthcare directive or living will with you to your next check up and talk to your physician about it, then ask them to keep the copy on file.

A rule of thumb with healthcare wishes is to give a copy of your Medical Power of Attorney and your Directive to Physicians and Family to each of your primary care physicians, give copies to each of the healthcare agents you’ve nominated, AND keep a copy or two on file to take with you if you ever need to go to the hospital. Of course, keep the signed original in a safe place with the rest of your estate planning documents. 

The hardest part of estate planning isn’t necessarily choosing the right fiduciaries, or deciding how to distribute your wealth fairly among your loved ones... the hardest part of estate planning is often simply talking about it with family. In fact, having “The Discussion” can be such a daunting task that many families simply don’t do it, choosing instead to take their chances when the family patriarch or matriarch passes away and the succession plan is revealed. Just this week I met with a gentleman who was commenting on just this subject.

Avoiding the subject isn’t going to do you or your family any favors. More family infighting takes place after a death than at any other time. After all, this is when loved ones are grieving and emotions are high, when the central family figure or peacemaker may no longer be with you, and seemingly unequal inheritance distributions can no longer be explained.

What if there was a way to have “The Discussion” before it was forced upon you? What if there was a way to make that legacy and estate planning discussion low-pressure and even fun? That is exactly what husband and wife psychologist team Carolyn Friend and James Weiner have done with their book and accompanying card game, The Legacy Conversation: the missing gem in wealth planning.

Forbes magazine’s review of the Conversation Starters card game gives a more detailed description of the game, including 7 or so sample questions to get the juices flowing; obvious questions such as “What cherished possession might your family fight over?” to the not-so-obvious questions such as “Have you ever found wisdom in a song’s lyrics? Name that tune.” The point of the Conversation Starters is not merely to discuss the family legacy, but to get to know your family members better, enjoy each other, and perhaps even grow closer in the process.

If your family has been putting off the necessary discussion of succession and estate planning, this might be just the game you need. Don’t be afraid to tackle the difficult subjects, you might find you enjoy them more than you expect. And when you’re ready, call our office. We can help your family with the practical details and legal legwork.

Sam A. Moak is an attorney with the Huntsville law firm of Moak & Moak, P.C. He is licensed to practice in all fields of law by the Supreme Court of Texas, is a Member of the State Bar College, and is a member of the Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section of the State Bar of Texas. www.moakandmoak.com

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