“Estate planning is not just for the wealthy. It’s for anyone who happens to love and care for someone.”
– Living Trust Network Staff
A Picture’s Worth A Thousand … Feelings
When I was a little girl, my grandmother had a painting by Andrew Wyeth hung in her and my grandfather’s room. If you’re into the art world you might recognize it: an old cream-colored dog, curled up asleep on a four-poster bed with a white-tasseled blanket. Outside the window, a pine branch hovers, and light filters through to create a sunspot on the bed.
My grandmother’s essence was everywhere in that room, and for me, the Andrew Wyeth painting was its centerpiece. I used to lounge on their bed and stare at it – my child’s heart drawn to and lost in its nostalgic simplicity.
Years later, it became clear that she was dying from cancer, which had resurfaced in her body a fourth time. Grandma asked me what of her possessions I’d like to have. We cried together, and I told her the only thing I wanted was her bedroom painting. It hangs over my bed now, a remembrance that makes my heart ache with sadness and love when I gaze at it. It’s my constant reminder of who my grandmother was, our precious days together, and her love for me. I wouldn’t trade it for all the millions in the world.
What Estate Planning Is Really All About
Family is beautiful. Within its sphere, we experience all of life’s different highs and lows together. Being a part of my grandmother’s family meant living many sweet childhood moments with her. But it also meant accepting goodbye when the time came. She made that transition easier for us and found peace of mind for herself by giving me a tangible piece of her personhood to carry into my future.
And that’s what estate planning is really about.
Estate planning gives you the confidence and peace of mind to freely enjoy right now with the ones you love.
The Problem With Neglecting Estate Planning
“Leave a Legacy, Not a Mess”
– Emerald Publications – September 2007
While my grandmother made a lot of things easier for us by planning in advance, many people don’t have conversations with their families ahead of time, let alone set a plan in place legally.
We’ve seen it time and time again, like when the family of a certain woman came to us for help a couple of years ago. We’ll call her Ms. Jane – here’s her story:
When elderly Ms. Jane passed away in her 90s, she had no spouse or children and left her estate to her siblings. Turns out she was quite the hoarder, and this was reflected in the number of possessions she owned as well how her finances were ordered. She left her assets a mess, and it became a huge burden for her family.
Ms. Jane made two major mistakes with her will that we hope to help others avoid: first, her will was handwritten. It was hard to read and inconsistent, and we had to go before a judge several times just to clarify what it was actually saying. Secondly, her assets were unorganized, with different accounts and insurance policies all over the place. She had named a bank as the executor of her will, and that bank no longer existed. We were finally able to figure out that the bank had been taken over by Wells Fargo, but Wells Fargo doesn’t handle her type of estate.
Two of her sisters stepped up to do the work of sorting through her estate, but it became a monstrous task. We’re going on two years of them trying to find all her assets, pay her remaining bills, locate her funds, and get everything organized to the point of actually distributing her assets. Luckily, we’re nearing the end. Everyone in the family has been able to get along and agree amongst themselves despite many inconsistencies, but overall, they’ve been left frustrated and bitter about the trouble she left for all of them.
A Lot of Us Just Don’t Think Ahead
Statistically, 6 out of 10 adults in the U.S. have not created wills. This means that about 60% of families will have a mess to deal with when their loved one passes away.
Of course, depending on the age demographic, those percentages differ. As expected, older people are more likely to have planned their estates. But according to www.caring.com , about 20% of people 72 and older still have no plan for their future. And the numbers rise in younger generations: 40% of 53 to 71-year-olds, 60% of 37 to 52-year-olds, and 78% of 18 to 36-year-olds have made no provisions for their estate.
We don’t like to think about dying, and we all assume we won’t die young. But it happens every day. And the amount of details that go into distributing a person’s assets if they die without a formal plan is overwhelming.
The biggest mistake you can make in estate planning is assuming you’ll have plenty of time to do it later. For many people, their family finds out the hard way that the opposite is true.
The Two Main Aspects of Planning Your Estate
Estate planning can be divided into two aspects, which may help you think about it a little more clearly:
Transferring Your Assets After Your Death
Where and to whom is everything you own, which includes money, business assets, physical possessions, property, and retirement accounts, going to go after you pass away?
You’ll need to make a plan for how everything you own is going to be distributed.
Preparing for Your Incapacity
Many people become mentally incapacitated before they actually pass away, making personal decision-making and estate planning really difficult for themselves and their families. According to www.alz.org , 5.8 million people in the U.S. alone are suffering from Alzheimer’s dementia, and that number is expected to continually rise. It’s the cause of death for more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. And it’s just one way to be incapacitated!
We know that thinking about the dying process is probably even less inviting than thinking about what will happen to your estate after you die, but it’s extremely important.
Choosing a power of attorney and setting up an advance medical directive are huge parts of estate planning that will bring a lot of relief to your family down the road when you can no longer make financial and medical decisions on your own.
“Completing a Power of Attorney and Advanced Medical Directive is important for adults of all ages because these documents help ensure someone has a person whom they choose to advocate for them when they are no longer able to make their own decisions. We never know when something will happen to us and put us in a state where we are not able to advocate for ourselves, which is why everyone should have these documents completed. They also help guide the person you appoint in what you would want to be decided about you, your finances and your care.” -Amanda LaRose, Elder Care Manager & Therapist
The Time Is Now, Not Then
As hard as it was at the time, my grandmother and I’s conversation about what she would leave to me is what has provided me with many sentimental moments since. Because she cared enough to make a plan back then, I now enjoy a symbol of her love every day. And because we knew her wishes about her possessions, burial, funeral, etc., it made decision-making after her death much easier on our family as a whole. The time to make that plan is now, while you have time and a clear mind to use.
Take the necessary legal steps to secure your family’s future, ensure your possessions will be distributed how and to whom you want, and make provisions for the people who mean the world to you.
Plan your estate.
At the end of the day, it’s important to think about estate planning now for the sake of your family and your own peace of mind. Let us help you make a plan for the future.
Click here to request your free consultation today!