ColumnistsFinancial Literacy

October is Estate Planning Month — Who Do You Love?

I often say that estate planning is not as much about you but about the people you love. I know that the conversation isn’t easy. I know that we don’t like to think about what happens if we are not here. I know thinking about our incapacity is truly scary. I know that selecting someone else to raise our minor children is painful. I also know that failing to plan really affects the people we love. In most cases, it hurts the people we love more than it will hurt us.

In the United States, about 50% of all people have a last will and testament. About 30% of Black people have a last will and testament. The statistic means that most people are trusting the government to decide what should happen through guardianship or probate. Estate planning takes the action of making plans for your life and your legacy.

We have many current examples of inadequate planning and the impact. We look at Prince, Aretha Franklin, Martin Luther King Jr. and most recently comedian AJ Johnson. The pain that the family endures is beyond measure. The litigation costs, the embarrassment and the degradation of the unpreparedness is unimaginable. Solely for lack of effective planning.

If I don’t plan, I leave my family to accept the governmental structure of who should get my stuff. In some situations, that is not a problem. If I am not married and have one child the stuff will eventually all go in the right direction. However, the detour of the courthouse is often a costly detour. The route that navigates through the clerk, judge and Register of Wills office require approvals of how your stuff will be managed and by whom. Not to mention there are court costs, filing fees and in some jurisdictions a bond is required. There are financial and time costs to not planning.

The humanity cost is when there is someone appointed to make decisions regarding your care and the distribution of your assets is delegated to a hired hand. The hand may be very professional. The hand may be very strategic. However, the hand may not know any of the people involved. Caring for the considerations of a person requires more than professionalism and strategy.

I am currently serving a family where the hired person sold the family home. It was a professional act but it cost the family years of memories. It cost the family more than $30,000 in unnecessary fees. But it was in the purview of the responsibility of the professional hand that was appointed to serve.

Estate planning is an opportunity to identify who will support you if you need help with your finances or your health decision-making. Would you want someone who doesn’t know you to make those decisions for you?

Estate planning is an opportunity to identify who will receive the treasures that you have worked hard for during your life or received as an inheritance during your life. Would you want someone who doesn’t know you to make that decision for you?

Estate planning is an opportunity to be a blessing to the charitable organizations that have been a blessing to you, your family and your community. No court or hired hand can make the decision to support anyone besides your next of kin if you don’t make the plan.

Make a commitment this month to review the estate plan you created. Does it still reflect the values, passions and love that you currently hold? Does it take advantage of the legal opportunities through tax savings and probate avoidance available? Do the people you appoint still have the capacity in your heart and life to serve? Are your heirs still able and willing to receive that which you have for them?

Do you have a plan? If not, now is the time. There are amazing estate planning attorneys in your community. Reach out to a professional to show your loved ones that you care.

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