How’s that New Year’s Resolution Going?

How’s that New Year’s…

You’ll recall my confession earlier this year that my husband and I do not have a proper estate plan in place. (Admitting this still makes me cringe.) It’s now July, well past 2015’s half-way point, so where are we in our progress?

Here is a picture of me “handing in” my estate planning worksheet to my colleague, Heather. Yes, Friends, we filled out the entire worksheet!

I realize that this milestone is notably short of having a completed estate plan in place; Joe and I still need to review our documents with Heather and sign them. But, I wanted to share my experience up to this point, as the worksheet was, to me, the biggest impediment in the process. After the worksheet is completed, save for minor details, the estate plan can be drafted. The hard work on our part is done; now that hard work gets shifted to Heather!

Our first hurdle was to make the worksheet a priority. And, since I am sending this to you in July, you know it took us months to do it. Of course, we all know estate planning is important and one can never predict when a circumstance will arise that requires those precious documents. But, especially in times of good health and busy schedules, it does not always seem urgent. It is all too easy to focus on more pressing/positive/fun/exciting/interesting/lighter matters. Joe and I had to commit to make the time, and when the time came, actually sit down and get to it.

Once we sat down together and started going through the questions, our next hurdle appeared on page 2 of the worksheet: the types of stuff we had to discuss. Most obviously, we needed to talk about death: our own, each other’s, our children’s, our family members’. We needed to talk about incapacity and tragic events short of death: again, our own, each other’s, our children, our family members’. We needed to talk about whom we want to make our financial and medical decisions upon that incapacity and whether those persons were the same for all purposes. We needed to talk about whom we would want to raise our children if we cannot.

It was heavy, depressing stuff! We put down the popcorn and remote for this?! (OK, maybe not the popcorn.)

Difficult topics breed difficult conversations which did breed some disagreement. This was our third hurdle. Joe and I found we had different ideas and feelings about certain aspects of what will eventually be our estate plan. While we were able to resolve our issues, we did not come to our completed worksheet with easy consensus on every point.

Finally, we found that our little “sit down” wasn’t enough to complete the worksheet. We had additional homework. We had to look at what assets we have and how they are titled. Are there joint owners besides our spouse for any particular asset? Any previously named beneficiaries for any asset and, if so, the names of all beneficiaries? We had to confront vulnerabilities in our current asset picture in the event of death or incapacity.

At the end of the day, I cannot tell you that putting your estate plan together is easy. I can’t tell you it’s enjoyable. I can say, however, that it is immensely comforting to know that those issues are resolved and hammered out while the sun is shining and skies are blue. There is great peace of mind knowing that our wishes are spelled out if the unexpected happens. I think of it this way: if we had a tough time putting it all together, imagine what our family members would have to go through if we failed to leave clear instructions.

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