Estate planning “awareness” week – really?! I know at least one person who would respond “hmm. . . . sounds like about as much fun as colonoscopy awareness week, but it takes longer!” Okay, the fact is that many of us don’t think about planning because, well – we’re procrastinators. I liked this Scientific American Mind article from 2008 about kicking the procrastination habit. The fact remains that the majority of people don’t make any plans for their “estate” or many preparations for their demise. Some folks would observe “estate? I don’t even have an estate!” I can assure you that even if you don’t need to be concerned about the drastic change in the estate tax, there are sound reasons to at least consider estate planning. I find that many people come in to see me for their own planning after they have lost a parent, sibling or friend whose affairs were not “in order.” A little bit of planning can go a long way here. I remind people at the close of an estate planning engagement that it is important for survivors to be able to locate important information and location of items (I give my clients a letter of instruction to accomplish this goal, but they are the ones responsible for completing it at home. It allows survivors to focus on grieving and not scrambling to locate important documents that they may or may not be aware of, and these include digital assets. . . .
So what are the basics for estate planning? Well, the kind folks at the National Association of Estate Planning Councils (the Women’s Estate Planning Council, to which I belong, is a member) have a nice overview available here.
Sometimes I also hear, I need a will because I don’t want the state to get my stuff . . . . The state rarely “inherits” a person’s estate (this is called escheat), but if you don’t have a will, the law of intestacy, inheritance without a will – is how the distribution of your (probate) assets will be determined. It is up to you to plan your estate, otherwise Colorado law will make it for you. So, do you need a will? If you know who will be able and willing to take care of your affairs after you pass away, how the law of intestacy will divide up your probate assets and you have all of your beneficiary designations for your nonprobate (as distinguished from probate) assets going to the right people or institutions, well maybe you don’t need a will . . .!
Most of us (me included) aren’t prepared to make that conclusion. For example, we want to be able to pick the best person (who we have previously consulted) as our personal representative, the individual responsible for wrapping up the affairs of our estate. If we have minor children, kids in college, or a disabled adult child, we will probably want to have a testamentary trust, otherwise there can be the “lottery effect” to contend with – most of us don’t want that!
This is a reminder that estate planning is about much more than money and assets! It is also about ensuring that your family members are taken care of in ways that benefit them and don’t cause undue conflict. This may crop up around a home, personal property or business interests. Here’s another NAEPC document about this. If you are a single parent, part of a blended family, a small business owner or solo attorney like me – you especially need to look into estate planning so that there can be arrangements made in the event of your disability or incapacity and a smooth transition in the event of . . . . the inevitable. Yep, I’ve got a will and powers of attorney that cover my law practice so that it (and my clients) won’t be left in the lurch if/when something happens to me. But don’t get me started about many of my “shoeless cobbler” colleagues. . . There’s lots of great information available to become more “aware,” – isn’t that the first step after all?