Most things that require time, effort, and sacrifice eventually offer some sort of gratification. You have children; you get to see them act cute, become adults, and have a life of their own. You work and save money; you get to go on a nice vacation or buy a new car. You donate to charity; you can follow-up and see the lives affected by your kindness. You deep clean your home; you revel in its freshness. You create a great estate plan…well, this is different.
When your estate plan proves its worth, you’re not around to witness it. The same goes with being an organ donor. You don’t get to experience the results firsthand, but you already know the benefits. You’ve seen heartwarming stories of people saved by donation, like a mother hearing her late son’s heart beating inside another child. You’ve also heard stories of the turmoil created -- anger, betrayal, endless court battles and family rifts that may never fully heal -- when there wasn’t a proper estate plan in place.
Writer Chuck Jaffe learned the power of planning from his brother, who suffered from a rare disease that eventually took his life. In a column titled 'My brother can rest in peace because he got his affairs in order in time,' Jaffe details how his brother urged him to tell people to “get their affairs in order before they were in a time of need and distress.” His brother did just that, having a plan in place well before his passing. Aside from it being the responsible thing to do, an estate plan is done out of love:
But if one of the lessons of Rob’s passing was the importance of having your affairs squared away before there’s a real concern for your own mortality, another is the story that is never told, the one where proper estate planning allows the family to grieve and move on and avoid drama, conflict, taxes and undue headaches.
...it’s important to count your blessings — and determine how to pass them on — long before it’s time for your transition to whatever lies ahead.
The process, he found, created peace of mind when it was most necessary. He hoped others could get the same feeling out of the process.
Don’t Wait, Do It Now
This is a message we cannot overstate enough. In fact, here are a few things you can do in the next 20 minutes to get your estate plan underway:
Advance Directive: Find your state’s advanced directive forms online, print out the document, follow the instructions, and fill it out. Don’t forget to tell your family where you keep it.
Passwords: Let someone know where you keep all the passwords for digital accounts and services. If you have a password manager or a document, what’s the password or where is the document? Since almost all of modern life is done online, this is a valuable roadmap that helps you determine the size and scope of your estate; from bank and investment accounts, to auto payments, to cherished memories.
Will & Power of Attorney: If you already have a will and POA, make sure someone knows where you keep it to avoid confusion in case of an emergency.
Life Insurance: If you have it, where do you keep the policy? If you don’t, let your family know so they don’t waste time searching for a policy that doesn’t exist. If you have a policy through work, make sure someone knows who to contact so they can collect.
Important Contacts: Whom do you turn to for expertise? Does your family know how to get in touch with them? It could be someone offering legal or financial guidance, a doctor or pharmacist, a mechanic if the car breaks, or a plumber if a pipe bursts.
Final Disposition: Do you want to be buried, cremated, or donated? This might seem like a departure from the things listed above, but identifying what you want can prevent any family squabbles before they begin, of course this is just a start. As people who spend every day trying to account for every estate contingency, we know it can be overwhelming. If you get discouraged, or feel like putting it off, just remember why you plan in the first place: Family, friends, loved ones, those in need of help. Imagine how sad they’ll be without you around, but how grateful they’ll be that you took the time and effort to make sure they can move forward without you.