Confessions of a Financial Planner: My Estate is not in Order


But this doesn’t mean yours shouldn’t be. Brian and I got married two years ago. At that time I went through all of our finances, combined accounts, changed names, updated beneficiaries, and made a list of items to complete: Wills, Powers of Attorney and additional life insurance for me. That was two years ago in September. While our finances are doing fine, our estate plan is partially completed. Time got away from me as it does with all of us sometimes. We both completed the forms required by the military to get our Wills done, but then I needed to be present to execute mine and since it was hard for me to get away from the office during the week, Brian got his copy completed before he deployed earlier this year, while my completed draft gathered dust on our desk and is now outdated and needs to be redone. In addition, while I had every intention of getting additional life insurance (and even applied for it), it turns out there was an outstanding check-up that I hadn’t completed some 3 years ago from a doctor referral and I can’t qualify for coverage until that’s completed. Another item to added back on the “To-Do” list. However, I’m on a mission to get these items in place before year-end and having just grabbed my now outdated draft off of my desk, I thought there would be some good lessons in this:

1)    As I mentioned previously, Financial Planners aren’t Perfect.

2)    There is a common misconception (especially among the younger crowd) that in order to need an estate plan, you have to be “rich” or have a complex assortment of investments and items that would need to be dealt with if left behind. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Having an estate plan in place is a necessity, and once you hit the age of 18 – you should have the proper documentation in place to make sure you’re covered, no matter how simple your life is. Doing so will ensure that you remain in control of how your possessions are distributed at your death, that your wishes for medical care are carried out and that your minor children (if any) are cared for as you desire. While it may be the case that you are just getting comfortable broaching the topic of estate planning with your parents about their wishes, it’s important that you take some time to think about what you would want as well.

When thinking about your need for an estate plan, consider the following:

  • How do you want your personal assets to be distributed?
  • Who stands to inherit them?
  • Are there certain items or gifts that you would want to go to specific people? (For example, your assets could pass to your spouse, but you could indicate your grandmother’s jewelry be passed to your sister or your DVD collection be donated to a local charity).

Creating a Will allows you to appoint an executor of your estate and provide details on how your assets should be distributed in the event of your death.

  • Should you ever become incapacitated, who would you want to carry out any financial tasks on your behalf?
  • Do you own a business? Who would take care of it?

A Durable Power of Attorney appoints a representative, such as a spouse, sibling, or parent to perform certain actions on your behalf such as pay bills and make financial decisions, if unable to perform these tasks yourself.

  • In case of a medical emergency, who do you want responsible for making decisions on your behalf if unable to make them yourself?

An Advanced Healthcare Directive (or Living Will) documents which types of medical care, including life-sustaining treatments you deem to be appropriate or inappropriate should you become incapacitated. A Medical Power of Attorney designates a representative to carry out those wishes if needed.

  • If you have young children, who do you want to care for them should something happen to you and your spouse?

Without an appointed legal guardian, which can be stated in a Will or Trust, any interested parties ranging from family friends to relatives to social services agencies may apply for guardianship through the courts.

  • Have there been any recent transitional changes in your life such as marriage, divorce, birth of a child, or sickness?

Once in place, your estate plan (including any beneficiary designations on retirement accounts or life insurance policies) should be reviewed annually to ensure documents and designations remain aligned with your current state of affairs and wishes. No matter what your estate looks like, at a minimum you should work with a trusted estate planning attorney to ensure you have a will, durable power of attorney, advanced healthcare directive, and durable medical power of attorney in place should you ever be faced with one of the situations listed above. Keep in mind that creating an estate plan is one of the most lasting gifts you will leave behind. Not only can it act as a form of insurance and risk management when used properly, but it will make it easier for your family to move forward with healing and rebuilding.

Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP® is an author, speaker, and financial coach who takes a fun, no-nonsense approach in working with individuals and couples across the country, helping them make smart choices with their money.

Follow me