Webster’s New World Finance and Investment Dictionary defines Estate Planning as: “Creating an orderly plan to disperse a person’s assets upon the person’s death.” Drafting a proper Estate Plan, one that is specific and right for you, can also protect your quality of life should you become incapable of making decisions for yourself. In addition, it can free your loved ones from the burden of having to decide what is best for you and your Estate.
So if Estate Plans are so great, why statistically speaking does less than a third of the population have them? Typically most people love the idea of an Estate Plan, but they fall victim to one or more of five common misconceptions.
Misconception number one: Estate Plans are only for the wealthy. Not true – Estate Plans are for anyone who has assets that they wish to protect and/or pass on after death. Let’s face it – regardless of your net worth, your money and assets are important to you. You’ve worked hard for them, and you deserve to decide what happens to them. If you die intestate, which is to say without having a proper Will, then your assets are left to the mercy of State laws – the result of which may lead to fighting among family members and the potential for an expensive and unnecessary court battle.
Misconception number two: Everyone knows my wishes. Even if you have discussed your wishes with family and friends, not everyone is clear on them. It’s kind of like the game of telephone where you whisper into one player’s ear, they in turn whisper into the next person’s ear, and so forth and so forth, until the last player repeats back to you something completely different from what it was that you originally said. Adding grief, loss, and unresolved issues into the mix just adds to the possibility of further distortion in regards to your final wishes. On the other hand, you can avoid this with clear, properly drafted, lawful, and indisputable instructions.
Misconception number three: Everything will take care of itself. This is a big one because really, it isn’t a misconception at all. In reality, if you do absolutely nothing to prepare, then everything will in fact resolve itself in time. The question is whether the resolution will reflect your intentions, and also, just how big of a strain will be left on the surviving members of your family?
Misconception number four: Estate Plans are too expensive. True, Estate Plans aren’t inexpensive, but in most cases the cost is a mere fraction of the value of the assets which you are hoping to protect. If that wasn’t true, then you wouldn’t be considering an Estate Plan to begin with. It’s as simple as that. Let me make this analogy – No one likes paying costly auto repairs, so why do we pay them? We pay them for the purpose of security. We pay because we don’t want to find ourselves stranded in the middle of nowhere. We pay because we have invested a lot of money into our automobile, and we want to get the best return on our investment. Estate plans aren’t so different. You, yourself are the greatest investment – why wouldn’t you want to invest in your own security? The security of knowing that your loved ones will be provided for, that your home will not become a tax burden for someone else, or that your most treasured asset will go where you intended without compromise or complication.
Misconception number five: I want an Estate Plan but I can draft it myself. Again, this is another one that isn’t really a misconception. You can draft an Estate Plan, and if you have the knowledge, experience, and the legal know how, then there is a good chance it will turn out fine. On the other hand, if you aren’t an experienced attorney, why would you gamble with your Estate? Let’s bring back that mechanic analogy for a moment. If you are not an experienced auto mechanic, then there is a reason why you’ve chosen to pay someone else to repair your car – because you want it to run properly. Estate plans that aren’t drafted correctly and in accordance with current laws can be disputed, often leading to costly probate proceedings. As our office paralegal once said, “it’s better to pay once for a good Estate Plan than to have others pay later for a messy Probate.”
Taking the time to meet with an experienced Estate Planning attorney, and drafting a plan according to your wishes and your instructions, can be the difference between knowing your wishes will be fulfilled as you intended, or hoping they will. Between leaving your family provided for and able to grieve properly, or leaving them uncertain, stressed out and potentially at odds with one another. Between preserving what you feel is the dignity of life, or trusting that someone else knows your needs better than you. Meeting with an experienced attorney, asking questions, being a part of the planning process, and having an Estate Plan drafted properly means security for you and your family. It is no misconception that you and your loved ones deserve as much.