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Happy Birthday! Time is shorter than you think.

And even if it isn’t, wouldn’t you rather have peace of mind?

These 9 tips for your legal documents will bring you peace of mind knowing that everything is up to date and in order.


1. Check Your Beneficiaries

We think that we know who we named as the beneficiary and who we named as the secondary or contingent beneficiary of our 401k or IRA or CDs or life insurance policy. Often we are wrong. We remember incorrectly. The situation has changed. We have inherited an IRA and not changed the secondary beneficiary. Imagine how flummoxed your executor will be finding an inherited IRA payable to “First Baptist Church”, perhaps one your mother attended as a child – especially if you are a Methodist. (Visit this link for tips on who to name: Naming Your Beneficiaries)


2. Check Your Bank Accounts

It means little to say that someone is “on” your checking account. In Texas, they might be a mere convenience signer: someone with access to your account but no ownership of it. This is actually a good idea if that person is not a long term spouse. They might be a joint owner, with 100% access but ownership only of the amount they deposited. This sometimes works well, too. They might, with you, hold the account “joint with right of survivorship,” giving each of you 100% access and 100% ownership. A surviving spouse can thus use the full account to pay for immediate needs. (Visit this link to find out more about your bank signature card: Why Your Bank Account Signature Card is Important.)


3. Check Your Credit Cards

If you are married, is your spouse a joint owner or an authorized user? If your spouse does not have an independently established credit rating, she may have trouble getting a credit card when you are gone. On the other hand, if your spouse is a big spender, you may not want to be responsible for her debts now or in the future.


4. Buy a Fireproof Box

Use it to hold

  • your insurance policies,
  • the latest statements from banks and brokerages,
  • a list of how and when bills are paid,
  • your passports and,
  • your Wills and any trust documents

Remember to include contact information for your

  • tax preparer,
  • lawyer and
  • financial planner,
  • 401k or 403b plan administrator and
  • any prepaid funeral, cremation or burial plan and your Appointment for Disposition of Remains together with a list of people you want notified and your directions for any obituary, memorial service and pictures for them both.

Make sure someone you trust knows where it is and can open it.


5. Check the signatories on your safety deposit box

  • You can leave some of the above documents in a safety deposit box instead of a fire safe.
  • If another person is a signatory on your safety deposit box, make sure they still have a key.

After you are gone, a court can order the safety deposit box opened. But the only things that your executor will be allowed to remove are your Will and any burial policy.


6. Check your online accounts

Make, keep and routinely update a master list of usernames and passwords or use an online service such as LastPass – and make sure that two trusted people know how to get into your accounts, perhaps putting the “key” in your fireproof safe or safety deposit box. (For more on managing online accounts: How Seniors Manage Online Accounts in the Digital Age.)

Make sure that both your agent under your Durable Power of Attorney and the executor of your Will or successor trustee of your Revocable Living Trust are legally authorized by these documents to access the contents, not just the catalogue, of your online accounts – to the extent you want them to be.

Make an offline backup of family photos and similar items just in case.



Check your HIPAA Medical Information Release to make sure that it names your agent under both your Medical Power of Attorney and your Durable Power of Attorney. Medicare fraud is rampant. The agent under your Durable Power of Attorney must be able to prove that the bill to remove an appendix is not a bill to remove your appendix. Our Resource page has a free HIPAA Medical Information Release Authorization Form.

Make sure that everyone else whom you want to be your “eyes” and “ears” is also named. Remember: these people are not your “voice” but you may want them to be able to know what is happening.


8. Medical Power of Attorney

Check the people you have named as your “voice” and your “back up.” Are they still up to the job? Are they still the people you want to speak for you?

Review the letter you have attached to your Medical Power of Attorney or attach one. Make sure that it communicates your values. Unless you already have a diagnosis and a short prognosis, addressing many specific medical treatments may not be helpful: they keep changing.

www.prepareforyourcare.org and theconversationproject.org can help you discuss this with your family and your doctor.

Once everyone is on board, make sure that everyone named and all your doctors have a copy. Upload yours, together with your medical records and family and physician contact information, to a USB embedded in a wallet card labelled “My Medical Records and POA.” You can create your own or ask your elder lawyer for one. Keep it in your wallet with your insurance card so that people will notice it: half of us 65 and older arrive at the hospital unable to direct our own care.

Visit our Resource page for a free Medical Power of Attorney form.


9. Durable Financial Power of Attorney

The Texas Durable Power of Attorney Act changed in 2017. Is yours up-to-date?

Does it provide for access to your online accounts?

Does it require your agent to report and give an accounting to you and, when requested, successor agents, your tax preparer, financial adviser and perhaps your elder law attorney?

Does it permit your agent to sign marital property agreements, partitions and deeds, transfers between spouses; to make changes to your estate plan, create and revoke trusts and take other steps to change documents as your circumstances change?

For more info on Staying In Charge, visit our Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning page.

Knowing that everything is in order, enjoy the year to come.


Estate Planning attorney, Terry Garrett, is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is active in the Texas and Austin Bar Associations. She graduated with honors from Cornell University. She was on the Dean’s List at Wharton Business School. She earned her J.D. at Columbia Law School, receiving the Parker Award and a Mellon Fellowship.

She assists families of people with special needs, people planning for the retirement years and people administering estates.

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