Estate Planning Is About Life (Not Death)

Quite a few of the folks I talk with don’t have an estate plan (which, at a minimum, I define as a will, power of attorney, and health care directive). I think there are two main reasons for this. First, lots of folks don’t think they are “rich” enough or “old” enough to need one and, second, people don’t want to think about dying. They think estate planning is all about thinking about your own death. So I loved when Michelle Singletary said in this video that “Estate planning is about life, not death.” Because while I don’t think I’ve ever said it that eloquently, that’s what I try to get across.

Getting your estate planning documents prepared (and making sure they are updated whenever necessary), isn’t really about you. It’s about the loved ones in your life. We are all going to die (hate to break it to you), it’s just difficult to predict when. And not having estate documents prepared isn’t really that much of a problem for you, you’re going to be dead (or incapacitated in the case of power of attorney or health care directive). And it’s not really a matter of how much money you have. Sure, the more you have – and the more complicated your estate is – the more estate planning is beneficial from a financial standpoint. But it’s the practical aspect, not the financial aspect, that’s the most important for most of us. I’ve known several people who have had people close to them die who didn’t have estate planning documents, and it was a tremendous burden on them as well as sometimes a financial strain (imaging someone being medically incapacitated but their loved ones don’t have access to their funds to help pay for their care).

So assuming you care about anyone other than yourself, every adult needs an estate plan (which, again, I define as a minimum of a will, power of attorney, and health care directive). For the vast majority of us, these do not have to be very complicated. You can likely find an attorney that can prepare this for less than $400 (depending on where you live), or you can actually do it yourself for free (or you may even have low-cost or free options through your employer). There are a variety of places you can do this yourself, but FreeWill is one that I can recommend. It’s easy and straightforward to use, can handle basic estates just fine, and truly is free. Now, if you have a complicated financial situation, it likely makes sense to pay the money to use an attorney. But for the majority of folks, FreeWill (or similar) will work just fine.

Whether you choose to use an attorney or use a free (or paid) piece of software, please, please, please take the time to do this. Spend a couple of hours (at most) now in order to prevent a boatload of stress, pain, and increased grief for someone you care about later.

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