Life and the law can be complicated - and so can be dying and the law. One thing is for sure - intentional estate planning is much better than accidental. Everything we own when we die is going somewhere and somehow. Estate planning then is the process of determining what we want to happen and deciding how to make it happen as smoothly and efficiently as possible (preferably without probate). It seems to be human nature to procrastinate about estate planning, probably finding it unpleasant to think about dying, or as if thinking about it might bring it closer. I suggest perhaps the opposite - that it’s more likely that what we are not prepared for is what we need to be wary of; not to mention the sense of accomplishment and peace of mind my clients share after completing the task.
Another reason I hear for putting it off is thinking one doesn’t have or own enough to justify the need for a plan, or that a small estate can pass without probate. Quite the contrary - no one can get to the $300 in your checking account in your name after you die without some sort of probate, which will likely cost more than such a balance. But, unless you want MegaBank to keep the money or send it to the State or pay it to your lawyer friend, you could title the account, and all of your assets, so it will pass to whomever you choose, without probate and at absolutely no cost or expense at time of death. Although the complexity of an estate plan may be affected by the size of the estate, it is mostly the clients’ wishes that dictate the simplicity or complexity involved. The older (and wiser) I become, the more I encourage my clients to keep things as simple as possible.
It seems easier also to break down any seemingly difficult task into do-able steps; so while I encourage clients to give some thought to what they want to include in their estate plan, I discourage them from overthinking details or making lists of every single asset and who should get it or how each should be divided. You will be glad to hear there is a simpler, easier way.
In generally less than an hour, I explain the process and ask questions and make note of the details necessary to formulate the appropriate estate plan from which I prepare the proposed documentation to send to the client for review, followed by a phone call or conference to address any questions and make any changes to the documents, which are then formally executed in my office, only after making sure the client has read and understands everything. All documentation is written in English and intended to be read and understood by the client and family without necessity of a legal “interpreter”. I am trying to impress the client with the documents - not other lawyers.
The task of estate planning is also made easier by remembering that generally, everything we do can be easily revised if need be in the future. It would be a far greater task if we had to make decisions and plans cast in stone. Extra care is always taken to make sure the client remains in full control of their affairs, assets and decisions. If there should arise a circumstance that calls for giving up any of that control or power to change, I will wave red flags and take extra care to make sure the client is certain of the appropriateness of such action before allowing it to proceed.