For a healthy 29-year-old, the words end-of-life don’t typically cross your mind. But they’ve been on mine a lot lately after losing my brother to brain cancer last year. If my life were to end, what would happen to my children? Who would make decisions for my husband and me if we couldn’t? These aren’t easy questions. But, given what we have just been through, my husband, Chris, and I feel the need to take a closer look at our family’s future should anything happen to us.
I know I want to continue caring for my three young children even after my life has ended. While I hope that’s 70 years from now, my family’s recent loss was a painful reminder that the day could unexpectedly come sooner.
That’s why Chris and I decided to create our estate plan to safeguard our children’s futures. It’s an emotional journey — but these four lessons have helped us through the estate planning process.
1. START WITH THE BASICS
Chris and I know it’s important to create a will or trust, even though we’re both young (he’s 31) and may not have impressive assets. We’ve started the process and have a goal to finalize one before the end of the year. In the meantime, we’ve realized how important it is to begin by reviewing the basics of our financial plan regularly.
First, we took a good look at what we already had in place. Each member of our family has life insurance, and my husband and I both have retirement plans. We made sure the beneficiaries listed match on all accounts and insurance plans so there’s no conflicting information. We want to avoid any confusion if or when these are used.
Next, we made a list of what is missing from our estate plan: the aforementioned will or trust, powers of attorney and a letter of intent. After understanding what else we needed to have all our documents in order, we set time aside to research estate lawyers near us to get the process going.
2. GET HELP WITH EMOTIONAL DECISIONS
While many of the steps and decisions associated with estate planning are simple on paper — making sure we clearly define who would get what, or making sure our life insurance is adequate — they get far more difficult when you actually start talking about them.
With three children ages 6 and younger, any thought of planning for their life without me grips my heart.
Conversations like who will care for children if both Chris and I die before they reach adulthood, or who will make decisions on our behalf if we can’t, have been emotional and riddled with anxiety. They’re not easy conversations to have, but we try to neutralize some of these decisions by enlisting the help of a third party. Someone outside of our family, like an adviser, can help us see things with less emotion so we can make a sound decision with our plan.
3. REMIND YOURSELF THAT YOU MAY NEVER NEED THIS PLAN
Given how real all of this feels right now, it’s difficult not to get wrapped up in the kind of decisions we’re making. With three children ages 6 and younger, any thought of planning for their life without me grips my heart.
Because of this, I’m trying to remember that we may never need this plan at all. For example, you buy car insurance fully hoping you’ll never have to use it. This is no different.
Planning for our end-of-life is important, yes, but our plans are unlikely to carry any real weight for our family for years to come. Knowing this and reminding myself that most parents get to see their children into adulthood has been helpful in removing some of the fear and anxiety I have experienced.
4. REMEMBER THAT LIFE CHANGES, AND PLANS CAN TOO
Every decision we’ve made has felt so final. It feels strange for me to try to plan for the future with unimpressive assets and an unclear picture of what our family will look like decades from now.
But the truth is, these are not permanent decisions. If I’ve learned anything from this whole experience, it’s that life keeps changing. Families grow, assets change and wishes concerning the future depend on a number of factors. The good news is that any plans we make for our future can be changed later on. In fact, we’ve come to understand that it’s a good idea to keep reviewing our estate plan on a regular basis.
Chris and I plan to check in with each other and the choices we have made each time the new year rolls around. As part of this, we plan to review our life insurance policies and retirement planning. Are the beneficiaries still accurate and relevant? Are we happy with the amount of life insurance we both have? It’s a good time for us to get organized, assess the year behind us and prepare for the one ahead.
It might not be my favorite thing to think about, but knowing that I’m protecting my children for years to come makes the process worthwhile.