By Robert Kabacy, Esq., Estate Planning Lawyer and author of About Me
Many people may believe that estate planning is merely a task they should complete in order to make their wishes known about asset distribution and other end-of-life decisions. Others may view it as a task only for the wealthy. But the truth is that the process of “getting your affairs in order” can lead to a healthier lifetime as well. While estate planning provides instructions to tell others what we want, completing this task can also leave a sense of accomplishment, and feelings of order and peace about the future.
The principles of physics demonstrate that chaos requires more energy than order. These principles can also apply to how we organize our lives. Cleaning a messy house or even just organizing a refrigerator can bring a peaceful feeling of order instead of chaos. These good feelings of accomplishment and order can free up our minds and energy for attention to other matters. In a similar vein, completing an estate plan and organizing one’s affairs can also reduce the potential of confusion, disputes, and extra effort at incapacity or death. If order is better than chaos, then why is it that an estimated seven out of ten people have not done any form of estate planning? The answer may partially exist in our instincts.
The survival instinct to live is part of who we are as human beings. That instinct is why, for many, the concept of death can be a taboo or even frightening subject. However, death is a common characteristic that all living beings share. We all know it’s going to happen, but we often refuse to think about it or discuss it. We celebrate births and other happy occasions in our lives. We generally avoid the idea of death, and the planning for it, because of the mourning, pain, and grief that comes with it. In many cases, we simply procrastinate, telling ourselves it will not happen today or any time soon. But, living in such denial or procrastination is not a healthy way to exist. Accepting the fact of our life coming to an end and taking action to ensure that it is orderly can allow a person to live with a sense of peace and order, making life a little easier.
Acceptance of death as a concept can take different forms. For one person, it might involve simply acknowledging it by saying, “I will die one day.” For another, it might include recalling the emotions and feelings they experienced at the loss of a loved one and applying it personally. Everyone will have slightly different coping mechanisms for this process of acknowledging and accepting the fact of their future death. Once acceptance occurs, moving to the second step is important to overcome denial and procrastination.
The second step is to take action and prepare a plan. Before a person goes rafting down a white-water river, they map the trip, obtain the right equipment, and plan for contingencies. The purpose of planning is to bring order and safety to the journey, so the experience is enjoyable, instead of chaotic and dangerous. The journey of life is very similar to the rafting trip. Planning for the journey, and especially for difficult times such as death, can provide for a better experience. We should identify what we as individuals want so that it is clear to those that are left behind. In other words, we should leave a map of our desires.
To create such a map takes two activities. First, and most important, is to get legal documents such as a will and/or trust done, along with powers of attorney and health care documents. This step should be handled with qualified counsel to make sure the legal documents are prepared to avoid common mistakes. Some mistakes to avoid include ambiguity in the documents, unclear instructions, and incomplete results. It is also imperative that all documents meet legal requirements to be valid and recognized by the courts and others. Finding local counsel to assist is not difficult. Many professionals such as a financial advisor, banker, or insurance agent can refer you to an estate planner. In addition, you can also speak to your friends who have gone through the process. Keep in mind that estate planning is an industry that you generally get what you pay for.
The second activity as a companion to the formal legal plan is to communicate the practical nonlegal information about yourself in a manner that can be easily used by those you leave behind. It can take the form of informal discussions with your loved ones, notes jotted down, or completing a workbook such as About Me: Information You Will Need When I’ve Passed This book allows you to customize the pages with information about your life and has chapters on what to do with the information. It includes sections on how to administer an estate, how to handle grief, dealing with disputes, as well as other useful information.
With the two steps of legal and nonlegal planning complete, a sense of accomplishment follows. While estate planning may not carry the same pleasure as eating ice cream or an embrace from a loved one, it brings with it the feeling of peace and order. By having order, which takes less energy, more energy can be allocated to an enjoyable life knowing things will be taken care of when the time comes. It is common for a person who completes the planning activities to say, “I feel so much better now.”
Robert Kabacy has been a lawyer in the estate planning and wealth transfer industries for more than twenty-five years. He grew up in the small town of Canby, Oregon, where he was a competitive swimmer.
He attended law school to pursue his passion of helping others navigate a complicated legal and tax world and has an uncanny ability to explain complicated concepts in an easy-to-understand format.
About Me is a result of the passing of his mother and experiencing firsthand the difficulty of losing a loved one while navigating the mechanics that go with it. He enjoys reading, stage/parlor magic, and outdoor activities. He still swims almost daily (though no longer competitively). Learn more at robertkabacy.com.