Working Wealthy – The Estate Planning Cliché

September 15, 2020

Those that know me well know I love a good cliché. In fact, I usually wear them out to the point that I can feel my wife’s eyes roll when I’ve used a phrase one too many times.

And so, I’m evolving. I realize that while clichés are an easy way to explain an idea, they might actually distract the listener.

The world of estate planning is rife with opportunity for my cliché-ridden brain to run amuck. An estate plan is vital to your personal financial plan. It is an ideal setting to lay out your wishes should something happen to you.

Most people are hesitant to establish or even work on their estate plans. It’s for good reason—human beings are not wired to ponder their mortality in the context of how some governing body might interpret it. I think it’s safe to say some of us don’t care about what the U.S. government or your state government has to do with your final wishes.

In the spirit of exorcising 3 common clichés about your estate plan and why you should have one, I promise not to use these in the future (much):

1. If you don’t have a plan for your estate, your state does.

Simply put, when you pass away, each state has different rules about how your estate will be handled and what happens to your property. The lack of even a simple estate plan means the state you live in at your death, will determine what should happen to your estate.

For those of us living in states with well-run finances and a governing body above reproach, you can ignore the rest of this. However, for the rest of us, read on.

2. Even a mediocre plan well executed today trumps the perfect plan made tomorrow.

I’m paraphrasing General George Patton with this line. And what does a World War II general know about estate planning—very little.

General Patton realized that when something is important to you, it’s better to have a plan than no plan at all. In my quest to establish the perfect plan, I might perseverate to the point of paralysis and end up with no plan at all. This does no one any service and makes an uncertain situation even more challenging.

Estate plans are not written on granite tablets. Most documents in your estate plan are revocable and can be changed. Don’t let the idea of having the optimal plan triumph over having a plan altogether—even if it’s not what you deem the exact right plan.

3. No one can read your mind.

There are several technical aspects to an estate plan that aren’t necessary to master to have an estate plan. But one truth above all is that only you know how you want your affairs to be handled when you’re no longer here.

Consider for example the last time you ordered something to eat for delivery. Unless that restaurant is your kitchen at home, there will be something inevitably off with your meal. Something is a touch too salty or not warm enough or the portion isn’t big enough.

Bottom line, it’s nearly impossible to have a restaurant to anticipate your every gastronomic desire, so how on earth can someone else guess how you’d want your estate to be handled.

Write it down and help them out.