You Won’t Want to Think About This (But You Should)
Estate Planning. For a lot of people, especially young couples in their 30’s, nothing feels less important or more remote than the need for estate planning. It’s so easy to put off, especially when it addresses a topic that few of us want to contemplate. Who wants to think about their own death anyway?
But I think this focus is misplaced. Estate planning really isn’t about the person who passes away. Rather, it’s about the people who are left behind. And for younger couples in their 30’s, this frequently includes some very important people who are counting on you to take care of them: your children.
Think of estate planning as an opportunity. You have an opportunity to make it easy on those who are responsible for taking care of your affairs if you were to unexpectedly pass away. You have an opportunity to ensure that your children get the right caregiver to watch over them until they are old enough to take care of themselves. You have an opportunity to ensure that your financial assets pass on to the people you want to receive them. You have an opportunity to ensure precious family keepsakes remain with the family member of your choosing.
The alternative? The default estate plan: you do nothing and the state makes all of those decisions for you. Not a comforting thought.
So what do you need to do? First, start thinking through several important questions like:
- Who would you want to inherit your financial assets, your house, your cars, your personal property?
- Who would you want to be the guardian of your children?
- Who would you want to handle your financial affairs to ensure that your wishes are carried out?
- Who would you want to do the above two things if your first choice for the role wasn’t available?
Once you’ve thought through questions like these, you’ll need to get your estate planning documents created. To accomplish this task, I highly recommend that you work with a qualified attorney. Two important points:
- Many people ask if they can use documents that they’ve found on the internet. I strongly discourage you from going this route. Estate planning can be a complex and complicated task, especially when you have children to consider. Moreover, keep in mind that you are creating documents that must work within your state’s legal framework, which more than likely consists of a set of complex and complicated laws. Better to know that your documents have been created by a true professional who understands these complexities than to “wing it” by pulling something off the internet.
- Attorneys are like ice cream – they come in many different flavors. As a comprehensive financial planner who incorporates estate planning into my financial planning process, I’ve reviewed many sets of estate planning documents. Some are well-crafted, others are far from it. Make choosing a knowledgeable attorney who will prepare a set of well-crafted documents that are designed to do what you want them to do a high priority. If you are not sure who fits the bill, ask your financial planner for a recommendation.
After your documents have been finalized and signed, you’re all done right? Not so fast! You still need to update titles and beneficiaries on all of your financial assets. And what about the Personal Representative you’ve named to carry out your wishes? How will he or she know about all of your financial assets and how to access them? Creating a comprehensive list of your assets is one of the greatest gifts you can leave to your Personal Representative.
Here’s the bottom line: estate planning isn’t something any of us wants to do. But it presents a real opportunity to ensure your loved ones will be well-taken care of should you unexpectedly pass away and, when done properly, it substantially eases the burden of the person trying to manage your affairs for you after you’re gone.
Greg Pierce is a Fee Only financial planner located in St. Louis, MO, who specializes in helping people make smart decisions in retirement planning, college education planning, tax planning, investments and more.