My wife, Nancy, and I were at a favorite ‘watering hole’ here in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, recently and we started a conversation with some great people sitting next to us. Naturally, the topic of what we all did for a living came up. When I said that I was an “estate planning” lawyer and that I prepared wills and trusts for people, they said, “yeah, we really need to do our wills, but we keep putting it off.” They then asked, though, “isn’t estate planning just for really rich people?”
In response, I told them that they weren’t alone by putting off doing their wills. According to an April 2014 Forbes article, 62% of Americans between the ages of 45 to 54 hadn’t drafted their wills. So, a majority of us clearly haven’t done our plans.
Then I answered their question and said, “no, estate planning isn’t just for the rich and famous, it’s for just about everyone.”At this point, I didn’t want to pontificate to our new friends about aging and death, so we talked about other things. But, when we left the restaurant I wondered what it was that made this couple think that estate planning was only for the rich and famous. Perhaps the trouble was with the phrase “estate planning” which is pretty vague and is tossed around so much that people might think it only refers to the uber-rich of our society. Maybe it was me and I just failed to use the proper description of what I do.
So, I want to make amends in this blog and try to explain what estate planning is and what estate planning lawyers do for their clients.
WHAT IS ESTATE PLANNING ANYWAY?
In the context of “estate planning,” an “estate” is simply all of the property and assets that a person owns. Examples would include your home, a second home or vacation property, time shares, a small business, bank accounts, mutual fund or investment accounts, IRAs, life insurance policies, jewelry, your car – yes, even the clothes on your back.
If you own it or have an interest in it, then it’s part of your estate.
When you think of it like that, just about everyone owns something so most of us have an “estate.”
With this in mind, an “estate plan” is a strategy that can be legally enforced to protect, preserve and manage all of your assets if you die or become disabled. It can ensure that your property (i.e., your “estate”) gets passed on to the people you love and care about.
HOW AN ESTATE PLAN CAN BENEFIT YOU
An estate plan can do so much for you and your family. Aside from making sure that your assets get passed on to the people you choose, it can also help you reduce inheritance taxes. In your estate plan, you can name people to make crucial medical decisions for you when you’re not able to. If you have minor children, it can name people to act as guardians of your kids if something were to happen to you.
To use a sports analogy, an estate plan is a “game plan” for life. A football coach like Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots wouldn’t take the field on game day without some sort of game plan. If he did, his team would probably just have to “wing it” and the results wouldn’t be good.
Most people, whether they’re 35 or 75 have worked hard to get where they’ve gotten and are usually interested in providing some kind of financial security for their spouse, their significant other, their kids and their loved ones. Let’s face it, as morbid as it sounds, things happen to people every day. It’s the human condition. We suffer unexpected strokes, massive coronaries, car accidents and even random criminal violence that can take us away in a heartbeat.
If a coach wouldn’t just let his team “wing it” on game day, why would you let your family “wing it” after something catastrophic happens to you?
Let me give a nod to our new friends from the restaurant and say that this is the reason behind estate planning. It’s your “game plan” to protect, preserve and manage your assets when you die or become disabled. It’s not just for the uber-rich with millions and millions of dollars. It’s for everyone who cares about having a game plan for when they’re gone.
GET YOUR ESTATE PLAN DONE NOW