Who doesn’t like to start their day by thinking of everything that could go wrong? I get it. Talking about death can be uncomfortable. But, it is necessary.
As with anything in life, a little planning can go a long way. Getting your estate in order is like remembering to pack the children’s ibuprofen for a family vacation. Instead of scrambling to find a 24-hour pharmacy when your child wakes up at 4 a.m. with a fever, you can soothe your child immediately and without issue. Documenting your wishes has the same soothing effect for the people tasked with taking care of you when you need it most.
Estate planning is the process of organizing your life so that your loved ones can manage your affairs when you are not able to. This process usually concludes with the creation of a set of legal documents to govern your affairs, i.e. an estate plan. Which legal documents are included in your estate plan will depend on your unique set of circumstances.
Estate planning is a very grown-up thing to do. People often assume that it will be complex and expensive. Expense and complexity are relative terms, but people are often pleasantly surprised by how simple it is to get started.
Step 1 – Take an Inventory.
The simplest way to get started is to focus on the two fundamental questions. Who do you care about? What do you own?
Maybe you only care about yourself. That’s okay – no judgment. If so, it’s just as important for you to make an estate plan. That’s because an estate plan is not just a death plan. Perhaps you are temporarily incapacitated. Who would make decisions for you if you weren’t able to? Who would make sure your bills get paid?
If you have young children, you need to consider who would care for them if you were not able to. I know. It’s a terrible thing to think about. But, frankly, it’s irresponsible not to. I find that thinking about it is not the problem. It’s the doing something about it that’s the problem. You can rest easier knowing that you have designated a guardian in your estate plan.
As for what you own, having a proper estate plan in place helps limit expenses and preserve your assets for the benefit of your loved ones.
Step 2 – Talk to Your Loved Ones.
Whether you are married or single, have minor children, adult children, or no children, presumably you have someone you love and trust who would help manage your affairs when something happens to you. With that, it’s important to choose the right person for each role in your estate plan. If someone is an emotional “hot mess,” they are probably not going to be well-suited to be your health care agent. Talking to your loved ones about your wishes can be a good way to flush those issues out.
This doesn’t mean that you have to disclose every detail of your estate plan. The goal is to simply open a dialogue regarding your wishes. Estate planning addresses the most significant financial and personal decisions of your life. Talking to your loved ones can help empower them and enlist them to honor your wishes when you’re gone.
Step 3 – Don’t Get Overwhelmed.
I don’t know about you, but I get overwhelmed by online shopping. There are too many options. It’s easy to feel that way about estate planning. All these phrases get thrown around like power of attorney, living will, last will and testament, revocable trust, irrevocable trust, beneficiary deed – ahhh! We are here to help. A qualified estate planning attorney can evaluate your unique set of circumstances and help create a plan to fit your needs.
People don’t usually start out with the “Holy Cow” cable package. Instead, people usually start with basic cable and work their way up. Estate planning is very similar. Although it rings with finality, estate planning can change significantly over time.
Start with the basics. A health care power of attorney and living will, a financial power of attorney, and a will are the basic estate plan documents nearly everyone needs. Later, you can layer on additional documents as your circumstances may require or makes changes to the documents you do have.
Know this – estate planning is important regardless of age, marital status, or net worth. So, stop putting it off and get started today.