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Estate Planning – where to start, and why

Estate Planning – where to start, and why

“Because I said so.” We’ve likely all heard it or said it in response to the question “why?” But it’s not a particularly motivating reason to do something. Perhaps that’s why more than half of people do not have a will or other estate planning documents in place. . . they hear that they should, but aren’t sure why. Answering that question is really the starting place.

To answer “why”, let’s consider some other questions:

  • What happens if you are incapacitated and unable to handle financial or health decisions? Who would you want to make decisions for you? While we may think of this as a decision that can be delayed until late in life, illness or injury can result in incapacity at any age.
  • If you have young children, who do you want to serve as guardian if something happens to both parents? Think of the difficulty in leaving this for surviving family to decide at a time of mourning. What if there is disagreement among the family as to what is best for the child(ren), and it is left up to the courts to decide. Or perhaps you think the best people to raise your child(ren) are close friends, rather than family, but no one else knows.
  • Do you have children from a prior marriage? Stepchildren you haven’t adopted? A sibling you’re helping to support? Do you want to provide directly for your grandchildren? These are some of the circumstances where how you want to distribute your assets at death might differ from what would happen if you die without any plan in place.
  • Are there things you own that you want to go to a specific person? Maybe your stamp collection, the decorative plate hanging in your kitchen, or the memento from the family cross-country trip that makes everybody smile? While sometimes the value of such items is monetary, often it is purely sentimental, and they are frequently the most contested items in an estate.

So why should everyone take time to create an estate plan? Because each person’s situation is unique, with specific concerns and priorities. And the place to get started is to consider what those are, and then begin the discussion with your attorney on how to address them in your plan. And if he or she asks “why did you come to see me?” You’ll be ready with the answer “because I have some specific needs to address.”

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