Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late: The Importance of an Estate Plan

The night before undergoing emergency surgery, I was lying in a hospital bed surrounded by beeping machines and the constant interruptions of nurses and doctors. My husband was sitting next to me, his eyes narrowed with concern and worry. When the last nurse closed the door behind her, with a kind “I’ll be at the desk if you need me”, I turned to my husband.

“No matter what happens tomorrow,” I said to him, “Everything is going to be okay. We have a plan for this.” He nodded his head and closed his eyes. I saw the weight of the worry ease from his shoulders just a little, and it was invaluable. It was just that little bit of reassurance, a gentle reminder that we had both needed.

We had already had the ‘what if’ conversation; he knew what my wishes were for my healthcare if I wasn’t able to make decisions for myself, and financial arrangements were in place, if they were needed. Just navigating that awful emergency situation was all we needed to deal with, in the moment, for the moment.

To Have an Estate Plan is to Have Peace of Mind

Thankfully, the surgery was a success. No further intervention was needed; neither were our backup plans. But the fact that they had been there had given us so much peace of mind. And it wasn’t just on that dreadful night before the surgery. I have had a sense of peace ever since.

It’s often difficult to confront and to hypothesize about, but if my husband or I were to be given a diagnosis of a terminal illness, that would be hard enough for my children to deal with. I want to know at that stage that I have done all I can possibly do to secure their future life without me.

Don’t Have a Will Yet? You’re Not Alone

A recent study showed that only 50 to 60% of all American adults have a will or living trust. That’s an average of all adults over the age of 18. As you might expect, as you look at older age groups, you’ll find more people have put pen to paper and finalized their will and their estate plan. 68% of Americans over 65 have done it, as have 56% of people between 50 and 64. To me, those numbers are still staggeringly low.

So why do so many people not do it? People find it very unnatural to think about the end of their lives, or to confront the idea of something awful happening to them, especially when they’re young. But to plan for it is to accept it, and to make peace with it. To plan for it is to care for yourself, and to care for your family and loved ones. It prevents them from having to make difficult decisions at a very difficult time.

So I encourage all my clients to finalize their estate plans as an absolutely essential part of their overall financial goals. As a CFP, I don’t create wills or estate plans, but I have a network of professionals who do. I match my client up with an estate planning attorney who I think is a good fit for them.

While I then hand over and let them take it from there, I make a point of following up with my client regularly about this aspect of their financial picture. OK, I admit it – I’ll be quite persistent until I know that it’s done. Then afterwards, we’ll keep checking in on it.

If any of their circumstances change that might affect their will – a divorce, a change in insurance policy, a windfall, an income increase – then I will prompt them to update their estate plan with their attorney. So I’m an extra reminder system for my clients, I suppose, an extra pair of eyes on their affairs.

What is an Estate Plan?

While the primary function of an estate plan is to plot the management and eventual distribution of someone’s assets if they are incapacitated or pass away, that is not usually their only role. Many estate planning attorneys will provide a package that includes:

  • A will: A document that lets you lay out your plans for your assets after you’ve passed
  • A trust: A legal document that gives a trustee responsibility for managing the holder’s assets, and can be used to help minimize estate taxes and avoid probate
  • Guardianship documents: Appointing a guardian to assume parental responsibility for your children if they are minors when you pass away
  • Power of attorney documents: Usually separated into power of attorney and medical power of attorney, giving a trusted person the responsibility of making decisions on your behalf

Estate planning attorneys may well even help you to plan for your funeral, absolving your loved ones of the financial and emotional cost of doing so themselves. You’ll know that you’ll get your ideal send-off, without placing a burden on your family.

Make Your Own Choices – Don’t Let People Make Them for You

By establishing an estate plan that you’re happy with, you’ll know that your life’s hard work hasn’t been for nothing. You’ll know that you can leave your assets to your family without bitter arguments after you’ve gone. Or you can choose to leave everything to your favorite charity, to carry on doing good work that you value, with what you’ve left them.

You’ll know, like I did on that awful night in the hospital, that your wealth and your assets that you have worked so hard for, will be what keeps your kids safe and nurtured and cared for after you’ve gone. An estate plan is peace of mind. Simple as that.

If you need advice about financial planning, including an estate plan, I can help. Together we can shape your entire financial landscape, bringing in other expert help when we need to. You don’t know what’s just around the corner, so give yourself the peace you deserve, and finalize your estate plan. Don’t wait until it’s too late; get in touch today.

Investment advisory services offered through Equita Financial Network, Inc. (“Equita”). Equita also markets investment advisory services under the name Method Financial Planning, LLC. The foregoing content reflects the opinions of the author(s) and is subject to change at any time without notice.

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