When confronted with the thought of estate planning, most people come up with reasons to put it off.
“I’m too busy.”
“I don’t have the money.”
“I don’t want to think about it!”
Few of us want to face this unpleasant task, which takes time, costs money, and forces us to think about the uncomfortable topics of death and disability. However, being proactive and putting plans down on paper now prevents inconvenience and costs for yourself and your loved ones in the future.
Holistic estate planning — which looks at your life and financial situation from a wide perspective — prepares for the time when your spouse, child or other loved one must make decisions about how to handle your affairs.
If you die or become disabled without these decisions legally documented, you could lose control over what happens to your money, property and even your personhood.
We all make the same excuses when it comes to estate planning, so let’s address them one-by-one. By the time we’re done, we will have the information and motivation to move forward.
Excuse #1: I don’t understand estate planning.
Let’s tamp this issue down quickly. When you participate in “estate planning,” basically you’re making decisions about what will happen to yourself, your children, pets, money, property and any other items of value in the case of your death or incapacity.
Depending on their situation, some people must make more decisions than others in estate planning. However, the process of creating these documents is often straightforward, and getting help from a professional can make your efforts even easier.
When you sit down to start the process of estate planning, here are the documents you will encounter right away.
Last Will and Testament: Commonly called “a will,” this is the central document most people start with in estate planning. It determines what will happen with your children and property upon your death. To be enforceable, a will must meet certain legal guidelines. In Illinois, wills are governed by Article IV of the Illinois Probate Act (755 ILCS 5/4-1).
Power of Attorney for Health Care: A power of attorney for health care allows a person you designate to make decisions about your medical care in case you become unable to do so.
Power of Attorney for Property: A power of attorney for property allows a person you designate to make financial decisions on your behalf in case you become unable to do so, or to execute financial actions for you because you are physically incapacitated.
NOTE: Powers of attorney for property and health care are only relevant when you’re alive; they terminate upon your death.
Living Will: The main purpose of a living will is to specify your wishes about how you spend your last days of life. It usually includes advance directives about what types of life-saving measures you want used, if any.
Revocable Trust: A more flexible type of arrangement, a revocable trust allows you to change the terms of the eventual financial distribution while you are still alive. If the trust gains interest or is tied to an investment, you can collect income from the trust funds if you choose. The trust will then be distributed after your death on the timeline you decide.
Excuse #2: I don’t have time for estate planning.
Everyone juggles time responsibilities, both those we willingly accept and what life thrusts upon us. You take the time to pay bills, shop for health insurance, and research major purchases. Put estate planning on the same list as those tasks.
If you view estate planning as another aspect of your personal business, you are more likely to value the process and make time for it. Once you’re finished with estate planning, the process is complete unless you need to amend the documents to reflect life changes.
Plan now to save time and anxiety when it really matters. As your estate plans become needed, having them in place gives you and your loved ones fewer worries and more precious time to spend together.
Excuse #3: I don’t have anything of value.
For most people, this statement simply isn’t true. If you own a home or vehicle, you need estate planning. If you have a savings or checking account, you need estate planning. If you want certain property to go to particular people upon your death, you need estate planning.
However, the estate planning is about far more than money. First, involves creating a roadmap for how you want your health and humanity handled if you suffer a serious injury, or when you face the end of your life. It’s your opportunity to offer instructions about what happens with your mortal remains — that alone holds value.
Also, finances are intertwined with a person’s medical treatment, end-of-life care and burial. Your future health and happiness, along with that of your family, are affected by the documents you complete during estate planning. Take these simple steps to protect yourself and your family later.
Excuse #4: Estate planning is too expensive.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This old adage tells us that spending some money now will help us save money later. Estate planning provides the perfect example of this.
Estate planning documents must be prepared by a legal professional, and certified by a notary public. You will pay for these services; however, these documents help shield your finances and property when you die or become incapacitated.
A complete, well-drafted estate plan also protects your assets from creditors, predators and tax liabilities. As your estate moves through probate court, your last will and testament tells the judge how you wanted your affairs handled and your money and property distributed. Without this document, the probate process could expose your loved ones to unnecessary costs or loss of assets.
With many free resources available — including no-cost consultations with estate planning professionals — it’s too expensive NOT to do it.
Excuse #5: I’m afraid to talk about it.
You might think you’ll even jinx yourself by participating in estate planning. Of course, your logical brain understands that isn’t the case. Death is an inevitable part of life, the timing of which you mostly cannot control. Don’t make personal business decisions from a place of fear.
Set aside anxieties about death — save them for a counseling session, perhaps — and make your estate plans with a mindset of power and realism. Take advantage of what you can control, including your future health directives and the fate of your finances.
Finally, remember that estate planning is not just about death. It gives you a chance to envision a future in which your wishes are respected during and at the end of your life, and also helps protect your loved ones during a sensitive and confusing time.
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This is a legal advertisement from Sterk Family Law Group. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be construed as such. This article is for informational and educational purposes only.