The holiday season is here and with it comes special times with family and friends. It is a time for reflection on the year gone by and planning for the year ahead. Many people will make New Year's resolutions, often involving getting their financial affairs in order. One of the reasons I write this column is to help inform our community about the benefits of estate planning and to help as many people as I can avoid the problems a lack of planning can present.
I have found that some people need a gentle nudge to start and/or complete their estate plan. Sometimes it is the spouse, an adult child or a close friend that can motivate or encourage another person to do what he or she knows is the right thing to do. Every family has at least one member who can persuade the others to listen and act on his or her advice because he or she is trusted and respected. The holidays usually give that special person a good opportunity to offer a loved one a gentle nudge. Rather than approaching "the conversation" as something that is negative or sad, the family leader should let his or her loved ones know that they would actually be doing the family a favor by expressing their wishes in case of disability or death. Maybe you are that special person in your family; if not, you know who that special person is.
Estate planning is not like obtaining insurance that you will never use or submitting to medical tests for a disease or condition you may never have. The time will come for each of us when we must face our mortality. I've heard people say, probably based on superstition, "As soon as I do my estate plan, I'll die". For those people, I've got some interesting news: If you don't do an estate plan, that doesn't mean you will live forever. I've also heard the statement "Let 'em fight over what I leave behind -- it won't bother me because I'll be dead anyway". Well, if they could foresee and appreciate the years of family discord and legal entanglements created by their lack of planning, they would think differently about what to do with what they've spent a lifetime acquiring. If people could see things from my vantage point, they wouldn't hesitate to make a proper estate plan!
Here's a typical illustration based on a true story. A single, elderly gentleman with no children lived in California and had told his close friend that he wanted the friend's family to get whatever he left in his estate. The gentleman's closest relatives were in the midwest but he really didn't like them and he did not keep in contact with them. Unfortunately, he never quite got around to doing a living trust or even a will. When he passed away the court system took over his estate and found his relatives, who didn't know he had passed. They were awarded his entire estate, totally contrary to his desires. Maybe you are the one that needs a gentle nudge. If so, while you are enjoying the holidays and making plans for next year, maybe you should commit to doing what you know you should do. Meantime, may you have a safe and blessed holiday season.
©2012 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved.