When I say, “Financial Planning,” it’s altogether likely that the first thing that comes to your mind is either INVESTMENTS or INSURANCE. And while each of those disciplines are fundamental and foundational to every good financial plan, it is easy for me to say that the most important recommendation that I see in most financial plans does not fall under either of those categories, but instead, in the realm of estate planning.
And, of course, the first thing that comes to mind when I mention stuff like wills, powers of attorney and advance directives is, “Oh, yeah, I know I need to do that.” You’re in good company if you haven’t; over 80% of people don’t have these documents, and most of those who do, have insufficient or outdated documents. Why is it, then, that I could suggest that the MOST IMPORTANT recommendations in your financial plan fall under the heading of estate planning?
First, if you have minor children and haven’t yet created wills (or you have children who’ve blessed you with grandchildren), you should stop whatever you’re doing and purpose yourself to contacting an estate planning attorney to get these documents drafted immediately. Ordinarily, I try to avoid using such dramatic words as best, most and immediately, but I’m not exaggerating here! The reason this is so important if you have minor children is because you stipulate in your will who the GUARDIAN would be for your children in the case that you and your spouse are both… gone. Sure, the probability of that happening is very low, but if you don’t determine who should raise your children in your absence through a will, your state of residence will decide for you!
Second, whether you just became a legal adult or have recently gained access into the centenarian club, the time is likely to come when you’ll need someone else to help you with a financial or health decision because you’re unable (through a disability) or unavailable (you’re settling on a house and are out-of-town for business). You can clear up exactly how these things would be handled with a well written power of attorney document and advance directives. The former allows someone else to act on your behalf in financial matters; the latter, in decisions surrounding healthcare or end-of-life decisions (like the tragic Terri Schiavo case).
Third, of the very few things you can count on as certainty in this life is that your stay here on Earth will eventually come to an end. So even if you’ve made definitive plans to join the prophet Elijah, who reportedly left the planet on a chariot of fire sometime around 800 B.C., you’ll likely be leaving someone (and something) behind when you go. Deliberating over what you intend to leave behind—both monetarily and otherwise—may be seen as not only an opportunity, but an obligation for a life-well-lived.
So why do you think people have a tendency NOT to check-off this big to-do item of having solid estate planning documents created? People have a tendency to avoid conversations about their own demise, as though they might attract it sooner. Instead, I encourage you to see this as an incredible opportunity! Whether your 20 or 120, I encourage you not just to leave an estate, but a legacy.
For more information on HOW to put together a proper estate plan, you’ll find a more detailed explanation in Chapter Sixteen of THE FINANCIAL CROSSROADS.
For more information on WHY, enjoy my CROSSROADS co-author, Jim Stovall’s, best-selling novel, THE ULTIMATE GIFT.
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I’m a speaker, author, Head of Wealth Management for Triad Financial Advisors. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn.