Most people procrastinate creating an estate plan because they are uncomfortable thinking about their own mortality. That’s certainly a very unsettling train of thought. But sometimes folks get so wrapped up in thinking about death that they lose sight of the real purpose of an estate plan: to help the living.
Help for the living includes a number of considerations, such as nominating a guardian for your children, savings taxes for your children’s inheritance, encouraging behavior you would have encouraged had you lived, and providing for the care and support of your loved ones. It can streamline the process of finishing your final affairs; avoid the delay, expense and privacy invasion resulting from the probate process; and reduce guilt and avoid arguments between those you leave behind by making your wishes clearly known.
Help for the living also includes helping YOU. Your estate plan should not only provide for distribution of your assets after you die, it should provide for management of your assets and care of your person while you’re still alive, especially if you become incapacitated. Incapacity may result from age related issues, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia; from grave illness; or from an accident, such as a car crash that leaves you in a coma.
Your estate plan leaves someone you have selected to be in charge of your money (paying your bills, caring for your property, making investments, filing your tax returns, etc.). It should also leave someone you have selected to have authority to make medical decisions for you, possibly including the carrying out of your end-of-life wishes (such as withholding heroic efforts to save you if you are unlikely to recover from, say, a brain injury or other condition.)
Without a comprehensive estate plan, you lose control over your own affairs and you miss the opportunity to help your loved ones in the manner that YOU see fit. The court will decide who should raise your children and who should inherit your assets when you die. If you are incapacitated, the court will decide who should manage your assets, who should make healthcare decisions for you, and whether or not heroic efforts to save your life should be ended.
Don’t put off completing an estate plan. It’s really not about dying — it’s about the living.