For the most part, I have been known to be a very laid back, “take it as it comes” kind of person. I consider that a good trait as it has allowed me to navigate many times of uncertainty and wild winds of change over the years.
Those years of uncertainty and change have also taught me a few things. First, never take for granted that there will be a tomorrow and, secondly, try to plan for the future. These two life lessons have led me to get on my soapbox and attempt to get others to understand how important it is to be prepared.
“What exactly do I mean?” you may ask.
For starters, do what you can to maintain those important relationships in your life. Be the example for others on what it means to be a parent or a friend. Do not wait for others to make a change, BE the change. It does not work for everyone, but if you attempt to keep those relationships bound together, whether or not they are reciprocated, then you can sleep better at night knowing you did the best you could.
However, the most important lesson I have learned is that one must have the paperwork completed and up-to-date for wills, trusts, finances, etc. It will make things so much easier for your loved ones should something happen to you/your family.
Never think you are too young or that “it can’t happen to me”. Because it CAN! I became widowed the first time at just 43 and quite unexpectedly. My first husband and I had simple wills drawn up after the birth of our children. It was important to us to be the ones to determine where our children would grow up in the event of an untimely death. We did not own enough in assets to have trusts drawn up and at the time of his death our assets were still quite low.
After his death, my assets did go up substantially and then it was time to draw up trust documents. These documents will tell the courts (a) who do you want to handle your estate if you pass and (b) how do you want assets distributed. There is a lot more to it than that, but in a nutshell, these are the most important things.
Also, you want to have Power of Attorney for Finances and for medical decisions should you become incapacitated. Who will handle your finances should you become unable to do so (whether temporarily due to illness or long-term)? What do you want the medical personnel to due if you become very ill, do you want life-sustaining assistance or not? And who will you allow to make the decision for you if you are unable to do so?
Once you have these documents, you need to periodically review and update them. I have at least a half dozen amendments to my trust because as life changes, so to do my desires for how things will be handled. For instance, when my children were very little, we had chosen my sister to take care of the them. As they grew older, we chose someone who lived closer to where we lived so their lives would not be disrupted as much. Sometimes the distribution of assets changed, not only to whom they would go but the percentage of distribution needed to be addressed. That is because my priorities shifted over time and life changes may have occurred which made me rethink what I wanted.
When given the opportunity, I will always remind people of these documents. Yet time and again I am hearing from people in “my world” who are so unprepared and either do not have documents drawn up or who have not updated their documents to keep pace with where they are today. I have talked to my children on multiple occasions about making sure they take care of business. They have children, homes and assets which could be affected in the event of an emergency or a death. They are painfully aware that they are approaching the age when their father died unexpectedly yet they have not taken the necessary steps to not only help their loved ones should something happen, but to keep “Uncle Sam’s” fingers out of the pot as much as possible.
With my second marriage, my new husband drew up a will and trust for himself after we were married. His mother also had a trust. The documentation was amended every few years and became so important when they became ill and unable to take care of their personal affairs. I will also put a caveat in here that even with up-to-date paperwork, banks are still a difficult institution to deal with. There is a “workaround” for this, but you have to know about it and update accounts and signatures on accounts to keep the “pain” level down when it comes to dealing with them.
There are people in my world who have not kept documentation updated to match where they are in life right now. They have people listed in their wills or trusts who may not be able to take over in the event of illness or death. Having the wrong person(s) listed can pose a problem. What will happen if your successor trustees are either dead or incapacitated? Will the courts then become your trustee? I definitely would not want them to determine things for me! I don’t think anyone would. The more you can take the lead and take charge of your estate, the better it will be for those who need to deal with the institutions, organizations and people when it is most needed, whether due to illness or death.
So – I can lead a horse to water – and spew my knowledge for others to hear knowing what I am telling them is of utmost importance….. but I cannot make them move and do what they know needs to be done. I am telling them exactly what professionals in the field will advise them to do, so it is not just the fact that I have learned the importance of proper documentation because of experience, but because it is a known fact of life!
If you are one of the “horses” out there that needs some direction, take it from me, your “veterinarian” and drink from this fountain of knowledge. Once done, you will feel so much better knowing you are preventing your loved ones from the pain of inaction!