What would go through your mind if you were suddenly told by your doctor that you had two months to live? Would you be prepared? What would you do? How would you choose to live the remaining time that you have?
This is news that was given to my father earlier this year. It’s difficult news – especially for your loved ones. Based on his parents’ longevity, he was planning on living for another thirty years. But after receiving such shocking news, my father decided to live his life just as he would have otherwise. Aside from when he was unable due to medical treatments and their side effects, he continued working, spending time with his loved ones and traveling when possible. He didn’t want to be treated differently by others, and he didn’t let his diagnosis get him down.
Was he in denial about his condition? Not at all. He knew what was likely ahead in his near future. And thankfully, because of that, the one change he did make was he immediately started planning. Although he’d had estate documents in place and periodically updated for years, the week after his diagnosis he had his estate plan reviewed and updated. He made sure everything was in line so the transition would be as easy as it could be for my mother, his executor and trustees. He also spent countless hours making sure that he had a flawless succession plan in line at work.
Through this difficult time, it became very clear to me how essential estate planning is. As a financial advisor, I have taken classes on risk management and estate planning, so I have known for a long time that it is important. But this made it much more real.
Many individuals put off estate planning because we don’t like thinking about our mortality. We would rather continue life as usual without having to deal with the hassle of tasks like creating estate documents or choosing guardians for minor children. Don’t make that mistake. None of us are promised tomorrow, so it was best to have a plan in place ahead of time to make the transition as easy as possible for his employees and his clients.
Benefits of Estate Planning
- Making the transition much easier on your dependents and loved ones
- Giving you control over your assets after death
- Assigning guardians and allocating assets for minor children
- Directing the distribution of your assets instead of having the state decide
- Assigning those who will control your assets after death
- Helping reduce estate taxes and probate costs
Estate Documents You Should Have in Place
- Last will and testament (also known as simply your “will”) – Allows you to direct the distribution of your assets at death instead of having state laws determine that for you
- Living will / Advanced medical directive – Expresses your last wishes regarding sustainment of life under certain circumstances
- Springing power of attorney – Allows an individual do act on your behalf in the event that you are unable to do so on your own
- Healthcare power of attorney – Establishes an individual to make health care decisions for you
Other Important Estate Updates
Another aspect of your estate that you should check on and update periodically are the beneficiaries listed on assets that pass outside of your will, like retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s, pensions, etc.) and life insurance policies. When checking beneficiaries, make sure that you cover any beneficiaries’ potential name changes due to marriage or divorce and keep their addresses current. And you should consider whether you need to have a succession plan in place at your place of work.
If you do not already have one, establish an estate plan as soon as possible. If you already have an estate plan, review it annually to make sure that no changes are needed. And if changes are needed, do not wait to make the updates. In the event of an emergency, you and your loved ones will be so grateful that you did.
Having an estate plan in place is essential, whether you are young or old, married or single, wealthy or poor, healthy or unhealthy.
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