I have a confession to make. I have no estate plan – no will, no guardianship, not a document in place should something happen to me. As a financial advisor, this is extremely embarrassing to admit. I preach about estate planning all the time, but I cannot bring myself to do it. The thought of leaving my daughters, especially when their dad is no longer in their lives, is too painful to think about. I feel like I’m all they have left. I can’t die. It’s not an option. Plus, who would I burden with taking care of them? My parents are getting older, my sister already has four kids of her own. It’s very overwhelming, coming to terms with your own immortality. I completely understand why people avoid it. I am those people.
Over the weekend, someone I love experienced a very sudden decline in health. Right now, we don’t know what happened or what caused this. The doctors are trying their best to figure it out. While we are hopeful that whatever this is, it is reversible, we don’t know if she’ll make it. And if she does make it, we don’t know if she’ll be the same. This led to questions about living wills, healthcare power of attorneys, long term care options, etc. It hit me – I am unprepared for a situation like this. If my health took a sudden turn for the worse, it would be a nightmare for my family. I need to address this and take control.
The Basics of Estate Planning:
Now, let’s talk about the basic and essential estate planning that everyone should have, including myself!
Understanding Estate Planning:
Estate planning is the proactive process of arranging your financial affairs to ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes. It's not just for the wealthy; everyone can benefit from a well-thought-out estate plan. It allows us to protect our loved ones, provide for future generations, and maintain control over our assets, especially in times of transition.
Key Documents Everyone Should Have:
- Why it's essential: A will is the foundation of your estate plan. It dictates how your assets will be distributed, names guardians for minor children, and ensures your wishes are honored.
- Considerations: Update your will after major life events like marriage, divorce, or the birth of children.
- Living Will and Healthcare Power of Attorney:
- Why they're essential: These documents express your healthcare preferences and designate someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you're unable.
- Considerations: Choose a trusted individual as your healthcare power of attorney and clearly outline your medical preferences.
- Beneficiary Designations:
- Why it's essential: Ensure your assets with designated beneficiaries (e.g., life insurance, retirement accounts) go directly to the intended recipients.
- Considerations: Review and update beneficiary designations regularly, especially after major life changes.
Taking Control of Your Future:
- Naming Guardians for Minor Children: In your will, designate a guardian for your children. This ensures they are cared for by someone you trust in case the unexpected happens.
- Considerations for Blended Families: If you have stepchildren or a blended family, work with an attorney to navigate potential complexities and ensure fair distribution of assets.
- Regularly Review and Update: Life is dynamic, and so should be your estate plan. Regularly review and update your documents to reflect changes in your family structure, financial situation, or laws.
Taking the First Step:
Confronting our own mortality is daunting, but taking the first step towards estate planning is empowering. As we navigate the complexities of life, we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to be prepared. Let this be a call to action—a reminder that embracing security for ourselves and our families is an act of love and responsibility. Together, let's take charge of tomorrow, ensuring our wishes are honored, our families are cared for, and we create a foundation of security that lasts a lifetime.
If you have any questions about getting started or about estate planning in general, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Also, please check in with me in the next 6 months to make sure I implemented my own advice. I clearly need some accountability!