I heard it on the radio as breaking news – Britney Spears decided to write a will to put her $200 million estate into trusts for her children. The DJ followed up with “what a great idea!” As an estate planning attorney, my head exploded.
I’ve been practicing for 20 years, and it never ceases to amaze me how ill prepared people are for their incapacity and death. This is true whether we are talking about mom and pop next door with a house and an IRA or Britney with her $200 million.
A large part of my practice involves drafting wills and trusts. I help clients manage the legal aspects of incapacity, death and dying. I’ve witnessed a multitude of cases where a person became incapacitated or died without an estate plan, and the unfortunate mess their grieving family had to confront as a result. Many say they are afraid to face their mortality. They think if they sign a will, life ends tomorrow.
Preparing an estate plan may not prevent those thoughts from entering into your mind, but it will ensure that when something does actually happen to you, your family will be financially secure and the people that you chose will take care of them. I admit, I have a long list of tasks to complete on a daily basis. We all do. And let’s face it, a task necessary to address a future inevitability isn’t at the top of the list. Maybe you’re thinking of crossing estate planning off the never ending “to do” list before you board a plane or maybe you experienced a death of someone close to you, or maybe you haven’t thought about it at all yet.
After all, life in general keeps you very busy, and you have more important things to do than see a lawyer to plan for your death, which, in the master plan for our lives, is not coming anytime soon.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that you don’t know when that end will come. How much more devastating would it be to your family to be unprepared? I receive countless requests from clients seeking to update their wills because they are going on vacation. Many call because their financial advisors have told them it’s important to do so. Others call because a friend saw firsthand how not planning for death negatively impacted the family. Occasionally, people just want to plan ahead.
If you need to dust off your will to read it, it’s time for an update; probate and tax laws change regularly, and you may have forgotten that you named your estranged cousin as your fiduciary. Taking control of your personal and financial affairs is of paramount importance. Meeting with your estate attorney may be the absolute last task on your personal “to do” list, but making sure that your basic estate planning is current and complete should take utmost priority in your life. After all, it’s your family – your greatest asset - that you are protecting.
Angela Titus McEwan is a partner in the Parsippany, N.J., office of Day Pitney LLP and a member of its Individual Clients Department and Trusts and Estates practice group.