It seems there’s a week, day, or month to celebrate every relationship and, accordingly, the third week in October has been designated “National Estate Planning Week.” Why we, estate planners, have a week dedicated to our practice area may, at first glance, seem self-aggrandizing.
Yet, estate planning isn’t about lawyers but estate planning is about how individuals can protect their loved ones. Lawyers and other professionals simply guide the way. So instead of calling this week “National Estate Planning Week” maybe we should call it “National Family Fortification Week,” hmmm… Then again, I was going to suggest “National Family Planning Week” but that, too, could have been very misleading. Well, as they say, “a rose by any other name…”
Throughout The Lotus Rules (fka the Shark Free Zone) are pieces explaining why estate planning is for everyone and not only the 1 percenters, discussions on basic estate planning documents, analyses on historical and pending cases and legislation involving relationship rights, and scary stories about car crashes and funeral home terrorists. However, I think this is the first post on point for fortifying your family, so welcome.
- Take simple steps early. If you’re a working young adult with loved ones, then you need a plan to keep potential serious illness or untimely demise from causing your loved ones even more grief. Your plan could be as simple as Powers of Attorney and life, health, and disability insurances.
- Tell your loved ones that they are indeed loved: “Mom, I won’t let you mortgage the house to pay for my medical bills and, here’s the agent information for all of my insurances.” Tears will probably flow but they’ll be happy, proud tears.
- Teach your children the important lessons about life and money early, e.g., age 6, exemplify for them that living a happy and productive life is the goal and money is one tool that can help them reach that goal.
- Tailor your goals for you and your family; you’re unique. An estate plan isn’t a goal; it’s another tool. Still, some wrenches are better than others. The same thing applies with respect to estate plans. A good estate plan just doesn’t involve obtaining life insurance, throwing funds in a retirement account, and creating a will. Those are good steps, but before taking those steps consider who will be your trusted advisors. Who’ll take the time to get to know you and your family, work the plan, helping guide you and your family along over the next few decades?
- Take your time. OK, so you didn’t start out when you should have and you haven’t taken any steps yet, but holy crap, someone very close to you just passed away and surviving are kids, a dog, a spouse and…you want to do something NOW! Don’t. Well, don’t make any rash decisions, interview a few attorneys, talk to a few friends, chat with a few financial planners, and after the pain of losing a loved one has lessened, then start building your team. It will likely save you tons of resources down the road.
- Trust your team. Because of the attorney-client privilege issue, loved ones are not typically part of the initial consultation, but sometimes, if they’re the cornerstone of the family or if a family business is involved, perhaps they should be. Make the initial meeting a “let’s get acquainted” team meeting loved ones and professional advisors can give each other the “sniff test.” Discuss the broad strokes: wanting to ensure that the family is protected, that everyone knows who the “team” is, and create a comfortable, collaborative environment. Then later you can meet or speak with the attorney one-on-one regarding specifics.
Estate planning is a technical practice with many complex moving parts, but some fundamentals have nothing to do with instruments and everything to do with being a loving family member.