I recently read that 6 in 10 Americans don’t have their estate planning done. I've heard a lot of reasons for not making an estate plan, but the most common things I hear from clients are either "I haven't gotten around to it" or "I don't have an estate."
I'm quite familiar with the idea of being too busy, but the most recent episode of this in my life holds an important lesson about estate planning. Last week, my wife’s grandmother passed away and we were traveling to Alabama for the funeral. My young son and I were both recovering from being sick and I am trying to get my business up and running at the same time. I felt slammed. I can’t speak for all the things going on my in-laws’ lives, but I’d feel safe to wager that they’re just as busy and are adding in the additional stress of grieving for a beloved mother, grandmother, and aunt.
During this extremely busy and sad time, my father-in-law was grateful. Why? His mother preplanned everything years ago. She’d picked her casket, service music, and all the other details down to the thank you cards. Now, instead of grieving while fielding the barrage of questions and decisions that come with a death, he could focus on his family. She’d given him and his sister the gift of time. She’d taken a significant burden off his shoulders and kept him from having to forever ask himself if he’d done things the way she would have wanted. That’s quite the gift.
Funeral planning is a part of estate planning, but the work done by funeral directors usually doesn’t overlap with the estate planning done by an attorney. I often ask a client if he or she wishes to be buried or cremated and if there are any specific funeral requests he or she wants to include in the documents I prepare. Other aspects of estate planning, such as a letter explaining how sentimental items should be divided and why they matter, or a medical directive explaining your treatment preferences so loved ones do not have to guess, are a similar gift of time and knowledge to a busy family.
When I hear that someone hasn’t gotten around to their planning or they think they don’t have an estate, I think of situations like this. You may not think you have much, or don’t see when you can squeeze in your planning, but for your family, even modest estate planning is a huge gift. If you own a home, you have an estate. If you have children, you have answers to their questions about what to do. It’s not surprising that many clients are finally spurred to make their plan when a family member dies without one: that’s often when reality hits you in the face.
If you don’t think you’ve got the time because your life is too busy, you’d be surprised how easily you can get your planning done. For example, I can video chat or meet at your home with an evening appointment. I know other professionals that are flexible too. With a good team, you can handle your preparations before you’ve even realized it.
Please get in touch if you have any questions, and feel free to share this with your friends.
See you on the trail!
Post by Peter Harrison