One of the most common and well-known pieces of estate planning is a Last Will and Testament, along with a Living Will and Healthcare Power of Attorney. When my mom passed away at 57, she hadn’t updated her estate plan since she was in her 30s and it was buried in an old filing cabinet in a storage facility. I found it three months after making the gut-wrenching decision to take her off life support, deciding where to bury her (she was a widow who had moved several times), and other difficult decisions no one wants to ponder. Since I was an only child and my mom was a widow, no probate court appearances were necessary. However, many people will need representation in probate court if it is unclear as to the heirs of an estate.
When it comes to Estate Planning, Here’s what You Should be Doing Now
Put on your own oxygen mask and think through what is most important to you and your immediate family.
A few short months later, I connected with my financial advisor and a lawyer to make all of my estate plans – even though I was single and 32 at the time. I hardly had any assets or family but thinking you only need an estate plan if you have millions of dollars is a mistake.
Fast forward three years later, immediately after returning from my honeymoon… my husband and I went to the law office and updated everything including beneficiaries and living wills. Talk about a romantic date!
When it came time for our first child to be born and the hospital required us to bring in the Power of Attorney, I pulled it out of the file and stuffed it in my hospital bag with no last-minute stress. After my daughter was born, you guessed it – back to the law office to update our will to include plans for our daughter should the inevitable happen. We keep updated copies in our office, as well as share passwords and financial information so that in an emergency, we are fully prepared.
As you think through your Last Will and Testament, you’ll want to ensure your beneficiaries are well thought out. It can actually be meaningful as you think through how you can help create generational wealth for your children in this way or be a benefactor for a cause you really care about.
Have the difficult conversations, with your parents and extended family. Like, today.
Estate planning is awkward, I get it. But it is a drum I choose to beat because I know the last thing a grieving family member wants to think about is figuring out the best way to honor a loved one. Those conversations can be scary (so maybe pour a glass of wine or make a strong cocktail to go along with it) but I encourage you to sit down, eye-to-eye with your family, and be brave enough to have a hard discussion now that will create peace of mind later.
When you’re working through your own estate plan, you’ll need to think through some worst-case scenarios and plan for who will take care of your children or pets when appointing guardians. The names you choose to list as your guardians need to be made aware as you prepare your plan. And, sometimes it may take a few rounds to figure out who is best suited and available and to ensure agreement with your spouse or co-parent.
This isn’t a popularity contest – you are choosing someone who might raise your minor child.
Many of us are members of the sandwich generation – splitting time between caring for our children and our parents or parents-in-law so it’s imperative to also ask your parents about their own estate plans as well as work through your own. You may have elder parents who are experiencing a decline in their health. You’ll want to learn about contested guardianship, supportive decision-making for alternatives to guardianship, and guardianship disputes that lead to litigation.
Don’t be shy – come from a place of care and help them understand that this is about way more than material possessions. I’ve seen a death truly cause a rift among siblings – from the type and length of health care administered, to valuables that cause squabbles when dividing up an estate, to determining cremation or burial. When last wishes are clear and concise, loved ones left behind can grieve and move forward knowing that they are honoring those wishes with dignity.
Hire an expert and nail down your plans. (And revisit as necessary!)
When I became an adult orphan, I was lucky enough to have amazing friends in the town where my mom lived. My close friend’s uncle and his law firm helped walk me through the process after she passed. And, when I chose to create my own estate plan, I received great recommendations from my financial advisor.
Work with Parvin Law Group, P.C. for your Estate Plan
Parvin Law Group, P.C. is a local resource that will walk you through the process. Estate plan packages range from $500 to $2250 per couple for Dallas Moms readers. Having someone raise issues you may be unaware of or bring things to light that you may have not ever thought through is so helpful in a confusing process at a time when you are walking through the fog of grief.