The 5 Documents You Must Have Before You Die

In the last three years, I have been involved in situations in which a seller of property was physically and/or mentally incapacitated, a spouse or other co-owner had passed away or a person had to make life and death decisions for a loved one. In the majority of cases, provisions had not been made in advance for these circumstances.

Contrary to popular belief, all of us are going to die and about 7 out of 100 of us will suffer some form of mental incapacity. I heard the other day that you can live right, eat right, exercise right and you still end up dying. (What’s the point then, right? 🙂  )

By law, I am forbidden to give legal advice. So this article is not intended to provide legal advice nor should be interpreted as such. There’s my disclosure. But, I can still write about the five documents everyone should have. If you love the people that love you, these docs are necessary papers to have in your lockbox.

Keep in mind that most of these documents are Texas specific. If you have a similar document from another state, you should have it reviewed by a Texas attorney to see if it is valid in Texas.

1)    Will — Everyone should have a will. Even if you do not have a lot of assets, a will simplifies the distribution of your estate and ensures your treasured items go to your preferred recipients. This becomes especially important in “blended” families. If you do not have a written will, the Texas legislature has written one for you. You will probably not like its provisions. Get your own!

The other four documents have to do with your physical and mental health. They are in no particular order.

2)    Medical Power of Attorney — A medical power of attorney designates a person who you know and trust to make health care decisions for you in the event you are unable to do so. Say that you are in a car accident causing you to be in a coma. Your designated “agent” is authorized to make medical decisions for you until you are able to make your own.

3)    Durable Power of Attorney — A durable power of attorney allows you to designate a person to make financial decisions for you in the event you are unable to do so. So if you are in the coma of the previous example, your day-to-day personal business can be conducted in accordance with your wishes. The light bill can be paid.

4)    Living Will — (also called a Directive to Physician) is your instructions to your doctor regarding the use of or withdrawal of artificial means to prolong your life when your condition is considered terminal or irreversible. This directive usually goes into effect when you can no longer physically able to make those decisions. By having this document created well in advance of need, your loved ones can be saved the difficulties of having to make these decisions in a time of crisis. This document overrides the medical power of attorney.

5)    Declaration to Appoint Guardian — If you are incapable of making personal or financial decisions, this document provides for an ongoing guardianship. A loved one with Alzheimer’s disease provides an excellent example for the need for this document.

The job of living and dying just gets more complicated all the time, doesn’t it? By having these documents prepared well in advance of need, many difficulties and much grief can be avoided. Can these situations be managed after the fact? Yes, but it costs more money and has a much higher emotional cost attached.

Although these documents are available on the Internet, this is not a do-it-yourself project—too much is at stake, do not try this at home!

And a bonus document!

6)    Disposition of Remains — About 24% of Texans get cremated. This document simply informs your loved ones your wishes for the disposition of your body. Some people will say, “just donate it to science.” But what if “science” doesn’t want it? This document provides for different scenarios.

Depending on your specific needs, an attorney should be able do these docs for around $1,000.00 I quote that number with fear and trembling because everybody’s situation is different so don’t hold anyone to that number but it does, at least, give you an idea—a great Christmas present for your loved ones no matter what your age.

My go-to person in these matters is Kellie Stokes in old town Lewisville. She can be reached at 972-436-8141  She will be glad to answer any questions.