I was at a favorite 'watering
hole' last week enjoying a night out with my best friend and life partner, Nancy, and we started a conversation with some
great people sitting next to us. The topic of what we all did for a living came up. When I said that I was an "estate
planning" attorney and that I prepared wills and trusts for people, they asked "isn't estate planning just for rich
people?" My simple answer was "no" and then I went on to explain why.
In the context of “estate
planning,” an “estate” is simply all of the property or assets that a person owns. Examples would include
your home, a second home or vacation property, time shares, a small business, bank accounts, mutual fund or investment accounts,
IRAs, life insurance policies, jewelry, your car – yes, even the clothes on your back.
If you own it or have an
interest in it, then it’s part of your estate.
So, with this in mind, an “estate plan” is a strategy
that can be legally enforced to protect, preserve and manage all of your assets if you die or become disabled. It can ensure
that your property gets passed on to the people you love. It can name people to make crucial medical decisions for you when
you’re not able to. It can help reduce the amount of inheritance taxes that have to be paid. It can name people to act
as guardians of your minor children if something were to happen to you.
To use a sports analogy, it’s a “game
plan” for life. A football coach wouldn’t take the field on game day without some sort of game plan; if he did,
his team would probably just have to “wing it” and the results wouldn’t be good. Why then if you have a
family to protect would you want to “wing it” and not have a game plan in the form of an estate plan for life?
people, whether they’re 25 or 75, have worked hard to build their assets and are usually interested in providing some
kind of financial security for their spouse, their children or their grandchildren. Doesn’t it make sense then to devise
a “game plan” to protect them in the event that something happens?
Let’s face it, as morbid as it
sounds, things happen to people every day. It’s the human condition. We suffer unexpected strokes, massive coronaries,
car accidents and even random criminal violence that can take us away in a heartbeat. If a coach wouldn’t just let his
team “wing it” on game day, why would you let your family “wing it” after something catastrophic happens
And that’s the reason behind estate planning. It’s your “game plan” to protect, preserve
and manage your assets when you die or become disabled. So the answer to the questions I posed at the beginning of this chapter
is “No. Estate planning isn’t just for the rich and wealthy. It’s for everybody who cares about having a
game plan for when they’re gone.”