Does anyone share the feeling that estate planning feels overwhelming, unnecessary, and unaffordable? Maybe we’re thinking that day is so far away that what we leave behind is just so easily pushed to the bottom of the to-do list?
Since COVID, young and old alike have faced their mortality in a new way, and many of those were unprepared when people around them faced serious health concerns or even death. According to caring.com, pre-pandemic, only 16% of Americans 18-34 had a Will or other estate planning documents. What’s even more shocking is they report, “1 out of 4 Americans without a Will say nothing would motivate them to get one, and more than 40% say they won’t bother until their life is in danger.”
It took a grave experience of my life being in danger (less than 2 hours to live) before I changed my mind and prepared for my family’s future – and then an additional 6 years until I finally got around to it. This is the first in a series of articles I’ll share about my personal estate planning in Dripping Springs, Texas and how we finally got it done!
MISCONCEPTION #1 – A WILL OR TRUST ISN’T NEEDED IF YOU ONLY HAVE A SMALL AMOUNT OF ASSETS
A common misbelief about estate planning is it’s only for the rich, when in reality, estate planning is for everyone. Break it down to this simple statement – if you don’t plan for your estate, the state of Texas Will do it for you.
My husband and I don’t have a lot of assets, and having raised 4 children, we don’t have much in terms of liquid cash or investments. We have a beautiful home, 2 cars, some small investments, IRA & 401k accounts, some treasured items at home, and that’s about it.
So, is a Will or trust necessary for you and for me? Absolutely. Regardless of the size of your assets, an estate plan helps protect you and saves your family time, stress, and arguments down the road.
A Will and execution of Power of Attorney and even trust documents give all Texas individuals:
- The ability to decide how your assets will be divided.
- Determines who will oversee your financial decisions should you become incapacitated.
- Elect who will make healthcare decisions on your behalf.
MISCONCEPTION #2 – YOU’RE TOO YOUNG TO BEGIN ESTATE PLANNING
I had my first home at 21, got married at 22, and had my first child at 25. At a relatively young age I had significant things I cared about, but neither my accountant, financial advisor, or even my parents advised me to begin planning early for our futures. There were no specific thoughts about avoiding it, simply a lack of awareness for the need.
After you turn 18, you’re quickly thrown into the world of “adulting.” There’s no class to prepare you for the range of responsibilities you’ve inherited. According to census.gov, 49.5% of Millennials ages 24-39 reported having retirement savings, yet according to Gallup, only 20% have Wills.
Consider these challenges of “adulting” that would be solved with a basic estate planning package:
- Powers of Attorney – Do you want to give a parent access to have discussions with the pharmacy, or bank, or doctors? What about who make decisions if you become incapacitated?
- Will – If you’re over 18 you probably have a bank account, cash app, PayPal, etc. and social media accounts and technology. If a tragic accident occurs, access to all these things get run through probate, limiting your family’s ability to efficiently close accounts and exercise your wishes.
- Trust – Maybe you have greater assets you want protected or have a child with special needs. Only establishing a proper estate plan will enable you to protect these assets.
MISCONCEPTION #3 – YOU CREATED AN ESTATE PLAN AWHILE AGO, SO THERE’S NOTHING ELSE TO DO.
False, false, false! My husband and I finally completed our estate planning in Dripping Springs, Texas in early 2022. We’re less than a year later and new situations have arisen, like necessity for a special needs trust, altering our named representatives because my son entered the military, and other changes in assets.
Life is evolving by the moment and your estate plan is not meant to be a one-and-done document. Here are some reasons to ensure you have a maintenance plan in place for your estate plan:
- Have you moved? Laws are quite different state-by-state.
- Have the trusted individuals in your life changed, moved, or passed away? Considering someone’s ability to handle the assignments of your will or Powers of Attorney are critical to your estate plan being carried out as you’ve designated.
- Has your household size changed?
- Has your financial situation changed for the worse, or improved? Either can trigger the necessity to modify your estate plan.
The Law Office of Milena Christopher offers clients a yearly maintenance plan for routine check-ins for routine updates which is a life saver for me!
MISCONCEPTION #4 – MY FAMILY KNOWS WHAT I WANT WHEN I PASS AWAY SO I DON’T NEED A WILL
When I almost passed away in 2016, my family may have thought they knew what my wishes were, but nobody was prepared for that day. And had my life not been saved, my husband and children would have been so lost in maneuvering the basic tasks of life, I can’t imagine having our assets thrown into probate where my husband would have been left to fight the state.
It's important to have open and honest conversations with your loved ones about your wishes, but this discussion is only to set the stage for effective estate planning. Identifying items of importance for a child does not mean they can receive it after your death unless it’s outlined in an addendum or as a “special request” section of the Will.
Your ultimate goal will be to discuss options with your family to determine a comprehensive plan.
SO WHAT NOW?
I was 47 years old and a statistic before sitting down to create an estate plan with my husband. I’m 48 and we’re now sitting with Milena Christopher to modify what we thought we needed just a year ago.
The most important “what now” is completing a Basic Will and Powers of Attorney. Have a conversation with loved ones and take a mental inventory (or even better, write it down!) of your possessions. An experienced attorney can assist you in the creation of an estate plan to grow with you, no matter what stage of life you’re in.
The Law Office of Milena Christopher is a 6-time winner of Best of Dripping Springs and winner of Best of Hays County in the Legal Category in 2022. She works with families and individuals in Dripping Springs, Wimberley, San Marcos, Blanco, and Johnson City to prepare comprehensive estate planning documents with forward-thinking processes to effectively manage your estate planning documents. If you’re ready to prepare a Will, Powers of Attorney, or trust documents, or you want a trusted adviser to review your current plan, please contact us today.