First Responders and Planning for the Unthinkable from Austin Estate Planning Attorney Liz Nielsen

First Responders

Dear first responders, thank you for all that you do for us! We understand that being the first one on the scene can come with many different risks. We are dedicated to protecting you and your loved ones from the different types of emergencies that may pop up during your life. The following are some important questions for you to consider that can help you prevent your own family emergency.

What Happens if I Am Injured Or Unable To Make My Own Decisions?

Being unable to work or make decisions for yourself can seem like an unimaginable scenario. You spend your time coming to other people’s rescue, so it may be difficult for you to imagine a time when you might need help or rescue. However, such things happen to people every day. To best protect yourself and your loved ones there are a few things you should consider.

Disability Insurance

Disability insurance allows you to supplement some of or all your income (depending on your level of coverage) while you cannot work. With the proper coverage in place, you know that, should you be injured, you and your loved ones will still have money coming in to support you. If you have no disability insurance or are concerned that its coverage is insufficient, consider reaching out to an insurance agent to expertly review your current situation and your future needs.

Financial Power Of Attorney

With a financial power of attorney, you choose a trusted person (an agent) to handle your financial matters (sign checks, open a bank account, etc.) when you cannot. You can specify what the agent can do and when the agent can act based on Texas laws. Without this document, a court would have to appoint someone if you need help handling financial matters. Depending on your situation, the person the court selects may not be the one you would have chosen.

Revocable Living Trust

If you are looking for maximum protection for your loved ones with minimum court involvement, a revocable living trust can be useful if you need someone else to manage your money and property for you. A revocable living trust allows you and your loved ones to avoid the probate process (as long as you transfer all of your money and property to the trust during your lifetime). If you want the terms of the trust agreement to control after your death, for assets such as retirement accounts, you may need to name the revocable living trust as the beneficiary.

In most cases, you (and possibly your spouse if you are married) are the initial trustee and continue to manage the money and property. In addition, you can continue to enjoy the use of the money and property during your lifetime. If you become unable to manage your financial affairs, a previously selected backup trustee can step in without court involvement. They are able manage the trust for your benefit. You can also designate what will happen to the trust’s money and property at your death.

Medical Power Of Attorney

A medical power of attorney allows you to appoint a trusted person as your medical agent to communicate or make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you cannot do so. Much like with a financial power of attorney, if you don’t select a financial power of attorney agent, the court may have to name someone for you. And just like above, the person selected by the court according to the state’s default statute may or may not be the person you would have entrusted with making medical decisions on your behalf.

Advance Directive Or Living Will

Known in Texas as a living will, this document allows you to convey your wishes regarding end-of-life decisions. This document can make carrying out your end-of-life wishes easier and can reduce tensions among your loved ones brought on by uncertainty.

HIPAA Authorization Form

A Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) form allows you to grant specific individuals access to your medical information (e.g., to get a status update on your condition or receive test results) without giving those individuals the authority to make decisions on your behalf. Although these individuals cannot make any decisions, sometimes providing loved ones with information can help prevent conflict between your chosen medical decision maker and the rest of your loved ones because no one is left in the dark.

How Can I Provide for My Loved Ones after I Have Passed Away?

No one wants to think about what will happen after they die, but if you do not think about it, you cannot plan for it.

Life insurance is one of the first things most people think about when planning for death. Do you have enough life insurance to support and provide for those you care about at your passing? If you are unsure, it is a good idea to consult with your insurance agent and financial advisor to make sure your insurance policy sufficiently covers your loved ones’ support needs.

In addition to making sure that you have enough life insurance, you should make sure that your beneficiary designation form is properly completed. Often, people simply name somebody when asked to designate primary and backup (contingent) beneficiaries. Although completing the form is better than nothing, this type of designation may lead to unintended consequences. When you have named an individual, the death benefit will be paid to them in a lump sum at your death. This situation can be disastrous if the person has problems managing their money, has creditor issues, or is a minor. In the case of minority, a court-appointed guardian will have to manage the money until the beneficiary reaches the age of majority, at which time they will receive the money in a lump sum.

How Can I Protect My Assets From A Lawsuit?

Because of the nature of your profession, you may be concerned you could be sued. While Texas law provides some protection from suit, it the concern about a lawsuit is a valid one. Consider meeting with an insurance agent to assess whether you could benefit from additional professional liability or other insurance as an extra layer of protection.

The way you own your property can also offer a level of creditor protection. For example, Texas allows married couples to jointly own certain property as community property. Yet, jointly held property is not always sure protection against a law suit. It is important to remember that, if you know of a potential lawsuit or are in the middle of one, you should not sell, gift, or retitle any of your accounts or property in an attempt to shield them from the lawsuit.

How Do I Keep My Affairs Private?

You do not have to be a celebrity to want privacy. You may be concerned about someone being able to find out where you live because of your job. This is where proper estate planning can be useful. By purchasing your home in the name of a revocable living trust, the property’s owner is the trust. However, it is important to note that placing the house in a joint revocable living trust provides no asset protection.

An added benefit of a revocable living trust is that all trust management occurs without court involvement. You can specify in the trust document how the money and property are to be used during your lifetime, any periods of incapacity, and at your death and the death of your surviving spouse.

Next Steps

Once again, thank you for all that you do. You do so much to protect everyone else, and we want to take this opportunity to protect you. If you would like to discuss these questions further or if you have additional questions, please contact us. We have the expertise and experience to help ensure your loved ones are prepared and protected, if the unthinkable should happen to your family.  Nielsen Law PLLC provides family-focused estate planning to individuals and families in Austin, Round Rock, Cedar Park, and the Central Texas area.  For more information and to learn about our firm, please contact us.