By: Heidi R. Kemp
Christmas is always a bittersweet time of year for me and I always get a little introspective. On December 29, 1995, my family experienced a horrific tragedy. A house fire in the middle of the night claimed my aunt, 17-year old cousin, and 5-year old cousin. My uncle and 4-year old cousin survived. I was 12 and had the flu that Christmas. I remember lying in one of the spare bedrooms in the upstairs of my grandpa’s house while everyone was downstairs celebrating Christmas. My 5-year old cousin spent the day with me, chatting about the new toys he got from Santa. He was such a sweetheart. I also shared a birthday with him. Over the years, the pain dulled a little and Christmas started to feel joyous again. Then, on December 19, 2005, the cousin who survived the house fire passed away in an accident. He was 14. Thankfully, my family is resilient, and we are close. These tragedies brought us closer because we needed each other.
Why do I bring up such sorrowful stories? To tell you this. Whenever you think “it won’t happen to me”, remember this. Not only did it happen once, but it happened twice to my uncle and to my family. The majority of people will not do estate planning. Or, they don’t start to think about estate planning until they are older. Procrastination. The idea that something bad won’t happen to them or their family. Death is difficult to contemplate and even more difficult to talk about. These are the main reasons most people do not have estate plans.
So why do estate planning? Well, some of it is for you. The knowledge that you have things in place to make sure your assets go where you want them to go and that you have named the people you trust to make certain decisions on your behalf. But, I challenge you to think about estate planning in another manner. It’s also for the people you are leaving behind. Those people who have to pick up the pieces all the while trying to deal with their grief. A well-organized estate plan can take much of the stress and hassle off your loved-ones. If you can’t find the time or desire to do it for yourself, do it for them.
Estate planning does not have to be complicated. It does not have to be super expensive. At a minimum, everyone needs a health care power of attorney, a financial power of attorney, and a will. A knowledgeable estate planning attorney will listen to your goals and recommend the right combination of documents you need to achieve those goals.
Life is short. Life is busy. Time flies. All of this is true. So, don’t wait. If you’ve been thinking about doing your estate plan but keep putting it off, it’s time to consider putting it higher on your priority list. No one knows what life will hold. Why not get it taken care of so you and your loved ones can rest easier? The beginning of a new year is a great time to take stock of your life as you make resolutions about health, finances, family time, etc. Why not add estate planning to that list of resolutions? You and your family will not regret it.