Many people don't have a Will, whether intentionally or not. They might know that estate planning is a good idea but, for one reason or another, they end up putting it off or deciding to skip it altogether. I don't mean to call anybody out here, but, if this sounds like you, there is something important that you need to know: not having a plan is a plan. It's not one that I recommend, but it is making a choice about your estate plan. Why? Because we all, no matter our age, background, wealth, assets, or family will eventually become ill, injured, or die. And we will always leave something behind that needs managing.
No Estate Plan Is a Plan…Just Not a Very Good One
When I say “no estate plan is a plan,” I mean that death is inevitable. I don't mean this to be a downer, but it is a fact of life. Each and every one of us will eventually die, and we cannot control when or where it will happen. Once we pass on, our friends, family, coworkers, and other loved ones will be left with whatever remains. Every individual leaves a different imprint behind when they pass. Some have lots of assets spread across multiple states. Others have one or two families, segmented through marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Still others have an entire digital life, including novels written, photographs stored, and thoughts memorialized online. This landscape, no matter how simple or complex, must be resolved. Any debts you leave unpaid, any stuff you own, any businesses you run, any accounts you hold, and any legacy you leave will need to be handled by someone. Without an estate plan, these imprints still need resolution. That's why I say no estate plan is a plan. It's just one that you don't have much control over. Even if you don't name a person to handle your estate and you don't provide guidance about what to do with your assets and debts, someone is still going to have to go through this process for you. It may not be the person you would choose, and they may not know how you would like them to handle your estate.
An Estate Plan is Like a Legally-Enforceable Letter
An estate plan is basically a letter to your loved ones telling them what you want. Of course, it's even better than a letter because it's legally enforceable. Not only does your estate plan communicate your wishes and preferences to your loved ones, it also reduces the chance of conflict. Where there is uncertainty, conflict follows. Your family and friends care about you very much, and they will surely grieve your loss when you are gone. But can you imagine them trying to figure out what you would have wanted, arguing over loose ends that you left untied, right after your passing? That's the choice we make when we choose to put off estate planning.
Who Makes the Decisions If You Don't?
So, what's the opposite of a carefully-thought-out plan expressing your wishes? Default laws. The laws in your state (including us here in Maryland) have default decisions made for those who don't create their own estate plan. They are far from perfect, but these laws are enforced on a daily basis. Just like all other laws, they are based on certain standards. They expect your life to fit into certain norms for which the laws were written. However, we all know life isn't about standards and norms. Even if you consider your life fairly “typical,” I can almost guarantee that there is something in the default state laws that you would not have chosen for yourself. That's why a customized, personal estate plan is so essential. None of us are the standard or the norm. We live complex, beautiful, unique lives, and that means that the default isn't always right.
Let's Get Inspired to Act
I am not writing this blog post to scare you. In fact, I'm hoping to do the opposite. I'm hoping to inspire you. I am hoping that this post will encourage you to start imagining the future you are trying to create. What kind of imprint do you want to leave on the world and on your loved ones? How do you want to be remembered? How is your beautiful life unique and special? When we look at our lives in this way, it's almost exciting to start on an estate plan because we know we are writing the letter to our loved ones that will help them through a difficult time. It will give them stability, clarity, and a roadmap to follow. Sometimes people talk about how estate planning gives you “peace of mind.” I think of it a little differently. I like to think of estate planning as gifting peace of mind to those you hold most dear.
If you have questions about your estate planning choices, or if you are ready to get started, give The Tyra Law Firm a call. We are here for you.