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Have You Been Discussing Estate Planning Details with Your Family?

01/05/21 | Dana LaRieal Morales

I don't know if you have noticed, but over the past few years, it seems that the number and type of disasters affecting us are growing more and more each day.  We hear about flooding, tornados, hurricanes, wildfires, mass shootings, buildings collapsing and of course the pandemic.  With all of these things increasing in number and their overall impact I'm beyond shocked that so many people find themselves without the important documents they need.

Today, I want to ask you a burning question and then encourage you to take it even further.  The question is, do you have any of the following in place?

  • A will 
  • A living will  
  • Life insurance

I know this may seem like a morbid topic. Many of you may not even want to talk about it, but with the rate of natural and man-made disasters, we need to protect our families and assist them as much as possible.  Ignoring what could happen doesn't make the need for it go away. 

Just think about it, if three documents and in some cases pieces of paper, can make things easier for your loved ones in the event of your passing or incapacitation...and it ensures things are handled the way you would want them, wouldn't you want to do it? 

As a military brat, it was (and still is) common practice in our family to discuss the "what if's".  

What if I and your dad were in a car accident together do you know where to find all the important documents?  

What if you were on a ventilator, how would you want me to handle it? 

What if you died, would you want me to donate your organs?  

We never thought of death as a topic not to discuss because we talked about it all the time.  We talked about it so much that my mom has practically planned her own funeral, we just have to make it happen. Additionally, every time someone passes in our family and something comes up or we watch a show that brings up a question we don't know the answer to, we talk about it.

Is Estate Planning Only for Married People?

A lot of times I hear, well I'm single so it doesn't really matter or we don't have anything of value.  First, let me just say YOU and your life have value, no matter if you are single, married without children or with them. 

Now, that I almost took your head off for thinking and saying that HA!  Let me explain something to you.  I believe everyone should have a living will because that lets others know your wishes should you not be able to verbalize them for yourself.  Additionally, life insurance isn't just for those you leave behind to live off of, it also can help cover the cost of your burial and/or to finalize your "estate", you know...get your house in order.  

Now, it is my opinion and the opinion of many jurisdictions that it makes things much easier for your family, for you to have a Will. It helps let the courts and family members know what you want to happen with your belongings.  I especially recommend you have a will if you own things such as a bank and/or savings account, a car, home, china, jewelry, furniture, collection, etc. you should have a will. Definitely, if you have a child or a spouse, you should have a Will.  

Now, since we know you own a small business, let's talk about that as well.  That is an asset.  It needs to be addressed with your estate if you are a solopreneur.  If you are in a Partnership, you may require additional documentation or instruction regarding what should happen to your shares of the business in the event of your passing.  

Are Your Estate Planning Documents Updated?

Once you have your estate planning documents in place, it is important that you regularly review them to ensure they are updated with your current wishes. There are official ways in which you should change or update your will and some other documents, so make sure you speak with an attorney or check with your jurisdiction to learn just how to do those things.

For me, I had these documents created when I was single. I had some items that I inherited, life insurance, owned a home and a car and I wanted them distributed in a specific way to my family.  Once I got married, reading over my original will I realized that majority of it wouldn't have been what I wanted should I have died at the time. All because I didn't update it. 

You see I had created the will 13 years prior and of course, your life changes a lot in 13 years.  So, my rule of thumb is to review our Will verbally once every 1 - 2 years assuming there are no major life transitions.  If life transitions happen (i.e., a new baby, new assets, new loss in the family) then I'd recommend reviewing it sooner to ensure these things are accounted for in your estate plan.

Why Is Estate Planning So Important?

One of the most important reasons for having an estate plan is so we don't become an additional burden on our family (or friends).  In my mind, my family and friends would be so upset at my passing or incapacitation that they wouldn't or couldn't think straight, so I want to help them as much as possible. See how our humor is a little off??  

No seriously, how many of you know someone who was in a serious car accident or was affected by a hurricane, tornado or wildfire?  I can add many things to this list.  The point is, what if any of these devastating life events happened to you or a member of your family?  

Would your family know your wishes?  Do they know whether you want your organs donated or not (and don't say it's on the back of your license)? Do you want to leave it for someone else to decide whether you live or die...whether you are fed through a tube for the rest of your life or not?    

What about your funeral expenses?  Do you want to burden your family with having to come up with $8,000 - $15,000 extra dollars to bury you?  As hard as it is to think about, it is vitally important that you handle these things while you can and that you have an honest and open conversation with your family about your wishes.  

Think of it as your last act of kindness at your family's biggest time of need. I also recommend that you begin to gather all the vital records and important papers together to ensure you and your loved ones can find them when needed.  Preparing ahead in the case of an emergency goes beyond having random fire drills in your home, you have to think and plan for life's unexpected events.  

You can't predict everything that is going to happen in your life and you certainly can't stop or dictate it.  The best thing you can do is prepare as much as possible and ease the pain of those around you when it does. If you need help identifying those key records and information or creating your disaster recovery plan, contact me.