Estate planning is a gift. No, it’s not one of those shiny new toys you unwrap and immediately add to your collection of favorite stuff. Nor is it something you can offer someone tied with a bow and watch as their eyes widen and a smile takes over their face. Estate planning is a subtle gift, but when it becomes needed there may be nothing your loved ones would be happier to receive.
Sometimes people think of estate planning as a self-centered endeavor; a way to avoid burdensome tax pitfalls and maximize personal wealth. True, estate planning can help to accomplish these things, but the real beneficiaries of a well-designed estate plan are those you care most about. The young child who, although grappling with tragedy, knows his parent cared enough to ensure that he would be well looked after, by nominating a guardian, and financially stable, by establishing a trust; the loving spouse who can take comfort in the fact that even after you’re not there, you will still be looking after them; or the adult children, thankful that your thoughtfulness and foresight allowed them to avoid the draining trials of probate and property division so that they can concentrate on celebrating your memory.
This last example hit home recently when my grandmother passed away. A tremendously caring and vivacious woman, she had been enjoying her retirement in Florida when her health began to fail. Her three loving daughters traveled to be with her through her last days and were thankful to have some time to say goodbye. Fortunately, she had the foresight to have a comprehensive estate plan in place, including a will and instructions for end of life care. This allowed her daughters to spend their last moments with her focused on what’s important, not worried about managing her affairs. When she passed there was a clear plan in place so that her children didn’t have to worry about how she would want things handled or squabble about differing points of view. In fact, the process of following her last wishes brought them even closer together in their remembrance of a great lady.
The point is, while there are personal benefits to be had by estate planning, you really do it for those you love; to protect them, to provide for them, and to ease their burden. I hope this helps put into perspective what a tremendous gift estate planning can really be.