THE WILLS AND WORDS CHALLENGE WEEK # 6 (an estate planner's chronicle)


THE PROBLEM: 50% of Americans do not have an Estate Plan (wills, trusts, powers of attorney).

THE CHALLENGE:  Make the case for an Estate Plan to 50% of Americans (or at least to my family, friends, and community).

THE CONTENDER:  An Oak Park attorney (sole practitioner) who has discovered the value of both having an estate plan and the ability to draft one.    

THE METHOD:  One argument, article, or essay a week persuading action.

THE DEADLINE:  7 weeks




Making the Case for an Estate Plan


An unmarried attorney once said to me (about refusing to create an estate plan), "What do I care about my property when I die.  I will be dead!"  Perhaps, he has a point.  Is there really any personal benefit from planning your estate?  Sure, estate planning helps to organize your documents and finances, identify who will get your property and designate guardians for your kids.  But creating a plan to deal with your incapacity and give away your property after your death seems to be a more of a benefit for your family than for you.  Again, begging the question, "If I plan my estate, what's in it for me?"


When I first started estate planning (before I created Mike's and my estate plan) the main benefit I saw was piece of mind -- your affairs are organized for your family/friends to handle.  And really, that should be enough.  We are all adults and we should not have to be rewarded to take responsibility for our lives. 


However, taking responsibility for our lives was not enough incentive for Mike and me.  We went decades without an estate plan.  How irresponsible and derelict in our duties as adults were we?  We spent numerous hours on the internet and watching countless basketball games.  We spent plenty of money on Starbucks, I-phones and dinners out.  Yet, we could not string together a few hours and spend the fee to create an estate plan?


Unfortunately, it took Mike's heart attack to spring us into action to create our estate plan.  Now that we have planned our estate, I have come to realize that there really is something "in it for me."  Planning our estate created the focus needed to contemplate life genuinely and to create a better sense of personal connection.


Sounds kind of corny, right?  Perhaps, even something an estate planning attorney who wants to sell you an estate plan would say.  I was surprised that there were benefits as well.  The point of estate planning is to think about one's death.  So, when Mike and I started drafting our estate plan, I thought, this is going to be uncomfortable.  I figured it would be depressing and even a little frightening at times.  Surprisingly, I found the opposite to be true.  Creating our estate plan was energizing, motivating and satisfying.   


Although Mike and I had to make provisions for our possible untimely death, that scenario was not my focus.  (Especially now that Mike has received a clean bill of health post heart attack!)  Rather, my attention was drawn to the fact that our deaths are likely still decades away.  Which means that WE STILL HAVE A WHOLE LOT OF LIFE LEFT TO LIVE!!  30-40 years' worth of life.  


In a way it felt like a time when I was studying for a test or hosting a party and I realized I had more time to prepare than I thought.  Post estate plan I am focused on not wasting a minute!  Sure, planning our estate motivated me to organize our money and documents.  But mostly, it motivated me to start living my life so that I die without any regrets.  


Of course, I did not need to create an estate plan to appreciate life.  But there is something about inventorying your assets, assigning recipients and incorporating it all in a legal document requiring witnesses that creates a profound impact.  Contemplating and evaluating your life while you still have the time and energy to enjoy it (or change it) is incredibly motivating and worth the effort it takes to draft an estate plan.


In addition to life contemplation, drafting my estate plan also created a unexpected feeling of personal connection.  Mike and I had to choose a person to act as our executor/trustee/agent when we created our estate plan.  Making this decision appeared to be a simple act.  Just write a name down, right?  However, in making that decision I recognized that we are not invincible.  We will someday lose our independence and need someone's help.  Surprisingly, recognizing this vulnerability was not upsetting.


Instead, I felt comfort knowing that there is now a person (actually four people) who have agreed to step up if we cannot take care of ourselves.  Acknowledging that you need other people is a big step toward feeling more connected.  Plus, knowing that a person (or four people) legally agree to be available for you when you need them makes that personal connection even stronger.  


Estate planning is something in life we should all do to be good family members and perhaps, even good citizens. Today, in a society where loneliness is on the rise and people are longing for more personal connection, it is nice to know we can feel energized and personally connected by just living up to our responsibilities.  If you plan your estate, there is something in it for you!