During a recent holiday visit, I had an enlightening discussion with family about estate planning matters. Somehow the conversation over Christmas dinner drifted to the topic of the utility of living trusts as a means to avoid probate (imagine that!). What ensued was a spirited debate, which resulted in the admission that my own parents don’t even have a valid will. The next day, I, as a concerned daughter who also happens to be an estate planning attorney, confronted my dad about his and my mom’s lack of that oh-so-important estate planning document. When asked why my parents didn’t have a will, my dad simply remarked: “We just haven’t gotten around to it.” My mom, on the other hand, told a different story: “I’ve asked your father repeatedly to talk to the lawyer, but he just won’t do it.”
As an estate planning attorney, I can tell you that my dad’s hesitancy to have his and my mom’s wills prepared is not an uncommon response. Very few people seem enthusiastic about mapping out their estate plans. Why? Probably because the preparation of estate planning documents requires at least some acknowledgement that their death is a certain and foreseeable event, however far in the future it may occur. No one, including myself, is eager to admit that he or she is ultimately going to die.
Still, an up-to-date estate plan, consisting of at least a will, powers of attorney, and an advance medical directive, is something every responsible adult should have, regardless of age or net worth. These documents do not need to be complicated, but must be legally sufficient to ensure that the individual’s last wishes will be respected and enforceable. If you do not already have a will and other estate planning documents, or you have recently experienced a life change, such as marriage, the birth of a child, or divorce, you should seriously consider consulting with an attorney. What better time to get your estate planning matters in order than at the beginning of a new year!