Lets face it, no one wants to talk about it. We’d much prefer not to think about it. And for the brave souls who reluctantly confront the reality of its certainty, most of them shift planning for it to that very uncertain time known as “someday.” Figured it out yet? Well I’ll tell you. Its Death. And while many of you reading this article may want to stop right here, I would encourage to you to stay with me on this just a little longer.
First, lets dispel the myth so many people I meet seem to buy into. What is the myth? That if we talk about death today, it somehow means that we are likely to die tomorrow. Not the case. While I can’t promise the time of anyone’s demise, I can promise that it will not be hastened by a discussion of this topic. I know, I know, we don’t like to confront our own mortality, but this fear of doing so runs counter to what we spend most of our lives actually doing.
Virtually all of the people that I meet, either professionally or socially, are striving for the same things. In the case of young single people, they are pursuing education or career advancement as a means for building a better life. If those individuals are single parents, then their focus is expanded to provide better options for their children in the way of education, lifestyle and environment. Married couples? No difference there, just the same as for single individuals times two. People want to do better. They want to have better and, in most cases, the “better” is for their families. In fact, we spend most of our waking hours engaged in an activity known as work that is designed to bring us the money that we need to build this “better” life. We buy life insurance to protect our family’s lifestyle should something happen to us. We open “529 Plans” to save money for our children’s increasingly expensive college educations. We strategically plan how to find the money to send our children to private school in the years before college.
Yet, for all the meticulous planning we engage in, that intimidating single syllable word in the first paragraph somehow keeps most of us from doing what could be the most important planning we could ever undertake. Ironically, we spend all our lives moving mountains to build a legacy for our families, only to falter at the finish line by not passing the baton of our lifetime’s accumulated wealth because we have neglected to plan.
So this is where estate planning, the process of preparing what is to happen to your assets and your children when you pass on, comes in. “But I thought estate planning was for people who have money like the Rockefellers, or Oprah or Donald Trump.” Not only the rich pay estate taxes. The estate tax net catches the working class as well. And indeed, the working class, more than anyone, should be looking for the best legal option for passing their hard-earned legacy on to their heirs.
Think of it this way: building wealth is a matter of accumulation. Properly protected through planning, wealth, like a snowball at the crest of a hill, rolls through each generation growing as each wave adds something more to the original amount. Such accumulation can only be maximized by thoughtful planning.
Still not convinced? You still feel that estate planning is for people with money and I simply don’t have enough of it to worry about it? Well, slip into the following pairs of shoes and see if any of them fit:
Are you someone who recognizes that with the advancement of medical technology, we are far more likely to become disabled for some period of time before we ultimately pass on, and you realize that you have nothing in place to instruct anyone on how to care for you in a time of disability, who should care for you, who should handle your finances, or where you would like to be cared for?
Are you on your second or third marriage, having children with your current spouse as well as having children from a previous relationship or marriage, but you desire to provide, in some way, for all of your children should something happen to you (and you may not be convinced your spouse shares your feelings on this issue)?
Are you a grandparent who wants to ensure that your grandchildren will be able to have the financial resources to go to college, but you have reservations that your children may spend the money you might leave if they are in charge of controlling it?
Are you a parent who has concerns about whether your children have the financial wherewithal to manage any inheritance they might receive, and you want to ensure that such monies are properly managed and available for them when they may most need it?
Are you a parent of a minor child (or children) and you have nothing in place to dictate who you want to take care of them and raise them should something happen to you?
Are you someone who recognizes that with the national divorce rate exceeding 65%, there is a real likelihood that your children may get divorced, at some point in time, and you do not want the legacy you leave for your children to be pirated by their “ex-spouse” in a divorce proceeding?
Are you someone with a special needs child, or perhaps aging parents, that you want to ensure are provided for in the event something happens to you?
If you can identify with any of the above examples, then you need to sit down with a qualified expert to begin to customize an estate plan that reflects the things that are important to you. Just as every person is different, the things that will be components in each persons’ (or couples’) estate plan will differ as well. The focus is not so much on what each person wants in their plan, but instead, that each person understands the importance of establishing a plan. Don’t let that word in the first paragraph of this article stop you from winning your life’s race and sharing the trophy of your accumulated assets with your family and those for whom you care most.