Do you remember when you first thought about making a will? If you are like me, and many others, it certainly wasn’t when you were young and single. I didn’t have much in the way of assets then and even after I married and worked in financial services, it just wasn’t on my to-do list.
What actually motivated my husband and me to undertake preparing wills was the birth of our first child, and the realization that we now had responsibilities to safeguard her future in the event something were to happen to us. So we worked with an attorney to draw up our wills, name her guardian, and to review our life insurance policies. And then those documents were filed away.
Four years later, when we were expecting our son, our family experienced a very tragic loss that left a new baby with only one parent – and it was another wake up call to us that the unexpected does happen, and not just to other people. It caused us to sit down as a couple and discuss those “what ifs” that most of us don’t want to even think about, much less plan for. And those conversations led to updating our wills, creating medical powers of attorney and living wills, and purchasing additional life insurance – this time on me, as I was contributing to the household income.
And yet, since that time, we’ve only revisited our estate plans once, when our two children became adults and we wanted to focus on distributions rather than guardianship and financial support. But I’m ashamed to say that since then we’ve lived in two different states and have not had our documents updated to reflect laws that may differ between states.
This past year, we faced another family tragedy with the sudden death of a young relative who died “intestate” – without a will. I saw firsthand the challenges this presents to the family, and the financial limbo that exists until the legal system works through the steps toward probate.
I should know better – so why is this always something I put off? It’s not like I haven’t experienced firsthand many of the reasons we need to document our wishes with respect to our lives and our belongings. I suspect I’m not alone, because these conversations are hard work, and require discussing illness and death and many things that we’d rather not talk about. But as I have lost close friends and relatives, I see the difference it makes when you know what someone wants if there are medical decisions to be made – and who will make them. There is huge comfort in knowing what someone’s wishes are so that you are not placed in a role of decision-maker for choices you don’t want to make.
Just as it’s important to have a financial plan to live to and through retirement, it’s important to plan for what happens at the end. My husband and I have made our appointment to revise all of our estate and medical documents next month. It’s our gift to those we love, and while I hope they won’t need it for many years, it gives me great comfort that they will know our wishes – whenever that time comes.