Our office has continued to see an increase in calls from people of all ages inquiring about preparing their wills, their medical powers of attorney, and the declaration of guardian for their minor children. The novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has us all thinking about our mortality, and the “what-ifs” that come along with it.
Unfortunately, many people believe that they don’t actually have an “estate” because they aren’t wealthy and assume that a will is only necessary for people with wealth. That couldn’t be further from the truth! An estate includes everything from your personal checking and savings accounts (no matter the size) to your home and vehicles. Your estate also includes retirement accounts and insurance policies.
Another common misconception is that people mistakenly assume that wills are only for the elderly or terminally ill. However, the fact is that a will is not only for the disposition of estate property, but also to ensure the family is taken care of in your absence. Without a will, the state of Texas determines who will inherit your property upon your death. This becomes especially complicated with blended families.
Beyond the will, people are calling our office concerned about how they and their loved ones will be cared for should they be isolated in quarantine or incapacitated in the hospital. I tell them that they need a Medical Power of Attorney for themselves and for their minor children. The Medical Power of Attorney allows an agent that you choose to make medical decisions on your behalf or on your children’s behalf in your absence.
Also, in the untimely and unfortunate event of a person’s passing or permanent incapacity, a Designation of Guardian Before Need Arises allows a person to appoint a guardian for yourself and your children. A designation of guardian works beyond a power of attorney in that a power of attorney is no longer effective once a guardian is appointed. And a power of attorney for minor children signed by parents is void upon the death of the parents.
Now, you may be asking: “How can we sign these important documents while the state and local shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidelines are in place?”
Fear not! I continue to hold signing ceremonies that are well within the guidelines, as long as no one is exhibiting symptoms of the virus or has a fever. We deep clean and disinfect before and after each signing and we limit the ceremony to only 4 to 5 persons: the person(s) signing the documents, the notary, and the two witnesses. Texas also allows documents to be acknowledged by an online notary, so no personal contact is ever needed. This is great for those documents that do not require an in-person attestation. Unfortunately at this time, a Texas will is not valid without two witnesses present at the signing.
In our probate practice, we are often approached by people who have lost a loved one who prepared their own will, or perhaps even worse, used an internet resource to create one. More often than not, the will doesn’t do what the person intended it to do, and the family can’t change it after the loved one has passed. The reality is that the cost to probate a self-prepared, holographic and internet will is always more expensive than if they had consulted and paid an attorney to prepare one.
It is in everyone’s best interest to consult a Texas attorney to make sure that your wishes are set forth in a valid Texas will. Contact us. We are here to help.