Isn’t it fascinating that all of us successfully completed our driver’s education class and a driving test, yet we all have widely varying versions of the “truth” related to driving etiquette? I had an opportunity to drive more than 2,000 miles over the holidays and one common difference in understanding among drivers is the use of the left lane. It seems simple in my mind: the left lane is for passing other cars. In the course of my holiday travels (yes, our SUV was the one with the antlers and red nose) I discovered my simple version of reality is not shared with most motorists in the Southeast. Many drivers today feel that the left lane is a place to simply remain, no matter your speed or if you really are passing other cars. I think drivers just become self-centered, only thinking about their existence and etiquette disappears into the interstate fumes.
I feel better for your allowing me to vent, and you may be wondering how on earth this has any tie to the topic I plan to cover today around estate planning? It has a lot to do with it. We all may be on our course and feel that we are in the proper lane, but do we really understand the rules of the road? Since I am the sole earner in a nontraditional family structure, knowing the legal rules are paramount to protecting my family. At the end of last year I finally got around to updating our estate documents after 9 years. It took attending two seminars to move from a mental reminder to a written one to meet with our attorney. I feel so much better now that I’ve gotten out of my estate planning left lane. Our previous estate documents were our insurance policy when I was pregnant for our child, now 8. The documents all read something to the effect of, if I die during child birth, my partner will have custody of our child. Now that she is 8 and many things have changed, it was time to update all of those documents.
What is different in my estate documents versus other traditional families? A lot. For folks able to legally marry at the national level, there are protections and tax rights not afforded to those unable to legally marry. For example, if our documents were not drawn up correctly, my immediate family could protest my partner’s right to our child upon my death even though we have been together for 15 years (common law spouse for traditional families, but not us). In addition, proper documents ensure my assets and property don’t automatically go to my next of kin rather than my family due to that unmarried status. Also, for those unable to marry, the taxes on an estate could be up to 55% of the value of the estate – so proper Trusts and documents are necessary.
Whether you have no estate documents or yours are out of date like mine were, it is never too late to leave that left lane of coasting and update your estate documents. Be sure you have a Will, a Living Will, and a Healthcare Power of Attorney in a safe place to help protect those you love.