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Garland Tornado 2015 Photo Courtesy of Celeste Haiduk Cox, Executive Director at North Collin County Habitat for Humanity, aftermath of the 2015 Tornado in Garland

What if?

 The tornado that ripped through the heavily populated suburbs in Dallas after Christmas in 2015 took an awful toll.  Many people died. 


What if . . . 


Kids . . .

What if only the kids walked away from the tragedy?  Where would they go? To whom?  What money would be available to support them?


Mom . . .

What if mom was on life support and a decision had to be made?


The solution?

Usually, you hear people say, “Wow, I need to get my will done!”

But that isn’t enough.  Think of the questions above, how many of those questions would be solved by a will document that only said who gets your stuff?  Stuff demolished by the tornado and spread over the neighborhood.  Brutal, but sometimes you have to be an adult and realize that you might not be there to protect those left behind.

Your kids aren’t going to like you much if they are standing in the street, house demolished, no money, no guardians to take them, no documents to even help any guardians, and perhaps even the insurance proceeds tied up in court.

I know this is a harsh article, and I apologize, but it all happened. Tornados are a fact.

A standard will package consists of the following: 

  1. Will – yes, the standard document that tells everyone who gets what when you are gone.
  2. Memorandum of Personal Belongings – This is a great addition to a will which you can edit and change that allows you to make specific bequests (give specific things) to specific people without having to go through the effort of re-doing the entire will.
  3. Medical Power of Attorney – allows friends or family to make medical decisions for you in case you simply can’t due to being disabled.
  4. Power of Attorney – allows friends or family to make financial decisions for you, perhaps pay bills or whatever is needed while you are not able to.
  5. Declaration of Guardian Spouse – this specifies who has control of you, your finances or perhaps even your person, in the event that you are no longer competent and need to be placed into someone else’s permanent care.
  6. Declaration of Guardian Children, Temporary -- in the event both parent’s die, this enables someone locally to take control of the kids without question for a few days until the permanent guardians arrive to take over.
  7. Declaration of Guardian Permanent – these are the people who will have permanent custody and control of the kids in the event both parents die.
  8. Directive to Physicians – this can truly be a gift to those left behind. If you are placed on life support and a decision has to be made as to whether to terminate (remove support) or continue, this document tells those in such an awful position what your true wishes are.  (My family recently had such a situation, brutal)

These are the basic documents.  Make sure your lawyer discusses these with you.


Here are more . . .

Attorneys are now expanding their will package offering to include other documents that may be just as important in your situation.

The other documents that should be strongly considered when setting up an estate plan in the Great State of Texas include:

  1. Transfer on Death Deed – This is a deed which specifies who gets the house if you die.  A new addition to Texas law, seriously new as in only a few months old, this document is tricky, but can save thousands in probate costs by skipping probate court entirely if properly applied.
  2. Disinheritance letters – If there is a serious reason for an heir to be disinherited, then documents can be created to assist the judge in enforcing such a wish.
  3. Appointment of Agent to Dispose of Remains – Sometimes applicable to assist in ensuring authority is unquestioned in the preparations when someone dies.
  4. HIPAA Release – You can never have too many HIPAA release documents.  When a friend or family member comes to the hospital and denied access to the person’s status as a result of HIPAA, well, not good.
  5. Trusts – When one has significant assets, special financial considerations, or perhaps a child with special needs, a simple will package won’t be enough perhaps. At that point, an experienced attorney is invaluable and can save the family fortune, if not the family’s safety.
  6. Affidavit of Heirship for a Motor Vehicle - Available from the Department of Motor Vehicles, this document allows you to designate who gets the car after death.  

Probate is the court process by which a Will is proved valid or invalid. The legal process wherein the estate of a decedent is administered. When a person dies, his or her estate must go through probate, which is a process overseen by a probate court. In Texas, a probate is not as bad as other states such as California where probate can last for years.  Generally, a probate can last for months and is awful when you have to deal with grief as well as their estate problems.

Only things registered by the state of Texas MUST be probated -- think cars, the house, motorcycles and so on. Bank accounts, life insurance proceeds, and other investment accounts pay directly to the beneficiaries if the beneficiary designation is set.   

Probate can be avoided by the documents above, you can transfer the house via Transfer on Death Deed, the car via the DMV affidavit of heirship, and the rest with the usual beneficiary and Payable on Death designations.  Congrats!  You just saved a couple of thousand and a lot of heartache by skipping probate! 

It’s important to remember that all these documents must work together and be prepared together. Trying to create them off the internet yourself without an experienced attorney can cost you more than you ever dreamed of saving by doing it on the cheap. I know, I routinely cleanup messes created by online documents by well-meaning people trying to save money. 



Imagine what a lot of those homeowners are going to go through if their documents are lost!  Always, always, always, have a soft copy backed up in the cloud. And for those documents, if stored at home, make sure the safe is in a tornado safe place in the house as possible!


As always, feel free to comment, send me a private note.  Keep it nice though.


Call us if you need us!  We are here to help with your legal needs!


By Jac Schuster, a Family Law attorney, Estate Planning and Probate attorney in McKinney, Texas. Learn more at

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