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What triggers people to “finally get on” with estate planning?

Estate planning is something that virtually nobody wants to do. It can be tedious work, for one, and for two it requires us to consider the end of our life. Hard work related to our death- no thanks. There are probably a million other activities that we would rather take part in including dental work- than sit down and start the estate planning process. However, estate planning is something that every person over the age of 18 should do. 

A wise man once said that the difference (one of the differences, anyways) between adults and children is that an adult can devise a plan and stick to it while children do what feels good. Remember the old story of the grasshopper and the ant? The ant worked hard all summer and fall to store food for the winter. The grasshopper played in the warm sun while the ant worked and did not stop to do the same. When the cold weather came the ant was sitting pretty while the grasshopper nearly froze to death. The ant saw the cold grasshopper from the warmth of his burrow and brought the less-prepared bug in out of pity to prevent him from turning into a bug popsicle out in the elements. 

There is a clear lesson even if the story ended now the grasshopper entered the home of the ant. However, here is the rest of the story. Once the cold weather months were done the grasshopper didn't merely thank the ant for his hospitality. Rather, the grasshopper learned from the error of his ways and did something about the impending cold. In the summer and fall of the following year, the grasshopper worked alongside the ant to collect food and provisions for the winter months. He would be just as prepared as the ant because he saw firsthand what the consequences were of not preparing adequately. 

The story of the ant and the grasshopper is a lesson in preparation versus sloth. So many children's stories, including the Three Little Pigs and many others, attempt to impart upon our children lessons regarding taking the time to do things right the first time so that you do not suffer negative consequences. It is easier to not prepare diligently and to have fun for a short time but in the long run, that sort of behavior can and likely will come back to haunt you. The grasshopper and two younger pig brothers learned that lesson the hard way. Be the third pig or the ant, our children's stories tell us. 

We can understand this lesson, but it can be difficult at times to follow through on the lesson’s meaning. We may even suffer the consequences due to a lack of planning only to find ourselves in a similar position again. We were the grasshopper and the younger pig brothers, but we did not learn our lesson. Instead, we repeated the same mistakes again and again. Fool me once, shame on you…

Don’t be the Grasshopper when it comes to estate planning

By now, I hope you can see where I am going with these analogies and comparisons to children’s stories. It is not a wise idea to wait till the beginning of the process of planning your estate for an end-of-life situation. The fact of the matter is that we know very little about the end of our lives. About the only thing that any of us do now is that our lives will come to an end at some point. However, there is no guarantee of one that will occur or if we will be allowed to plan for that time. The risk is a great unknown.

With that said, we can take matters into our own hands and begin the process of preparing for for end-of-life situations now rather than wait until it is too late. The idea of scrambling to complete a will on your deathbed or having to struggle through complicated estate planning matters at the last of your days is not an ideal circumstance. I think anyone would agree that you should begin to consider estate planning matters as quickly as possible if you have not already begun to do so. The alternative certainly is not a desirable situation for you or your family.

What we are looking for is your “why” when it comes to estate planning. In other words, what is driving you to want to prepare for your future? This is what you need to figure out. Your reason for getting on the ball and moving forward towards estate planning will be slightly different than everyone else. There is nothing wrong with this. Your “what” or your “how” may be different as well but ultimately it will be your “why” that drives you towards getting this done. 

Despite all the obstacles that you have in your life or your psyche, you need to be able to Identify why it is important for you to engage in estate planning.  Once you have done this the planning, the execution, and the satisfaction of having knocked out this important aspect of your life as an adult will all come into focus. That is what we are going to look at in the next few sections of today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. 

We don’t expect you to immediately conclude about why you need to get on the ball about estate planning if you have not already. This is a complex topic that can take time to think about, plan for and then make decisions about. With that said, our attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week at our three Houston area locations, over the phone, and via video. These consultations can go a long way. Helping you discover your "why" as well as your next steps after that. An attorney won't tell you what to do. We can guide you and help you make better decisions for yourself and your family by providing you with information. 

Legacy building

There is an old saying that I am quite fond of- the definition of nobility is to plant a tree the shade of which you will never be able to enjoy. Any of us can find the motivation to do something that we will directly benefit from. Humans are if nothing else, self-interested. Even toddlers can be motivated to do things based on their understanding that completing a certain task will benefit them in some way. Sit still and get a piece of candy. My two-year-old will be happy to comply. 

In other words, we don’t mind doing something to obtain a benefit for ourselves. However, try convincing a kid to do something that will benefit his brother and he may be much less likely to act. As adults, we can be like this too. It does not readily occur to us that doing something for other people can be as beneficial to us when we do something good for another person. This is especially true when that other person is in our family.

Building a legacy is noble. You and I will be able to begin to see our legacy be built while we are living but will. However, the true fruits of our legacy will be felt most acutely after we have passed on. How our families view us will ultimately determine our legacy. We have little control in some cases over how our families view us. However, in one important way, we do have an opportunity to positively impact how our families think of us after we have passed on. That is by being diligent and intentional when it comes to our estate planning. 

But wait, you may be saying into your computer screen. What if you're not a wealthy person? Do "regular" people have to plan for their future, as well? Movies and television shows tend to make the creation of a will or a trust only an exercise for the most wealthy among us. Taking plots of land, fancy houses, jewelry, and the like and then promising all of it to an undeserving and recently married trophy wife. Isn't that how all this works in actuality? 

While the movies would have you think that it takes something special to create a will, that could not be further from the truth. Even if you have a modest amount of wealth or none, you should have a will. Having a will is a responsibility for an adult. Having a say-so in how our families lead their lives after we are gone is a privilege. Not every person in this world can say that he or she has control over how their property is handled after their passing. We have an obligation to our families to plot out how we want our property to be divided. 

Put yourself in the position of a relative after you have passed away. Aside from all the normal emotions associated with someone passing you would be asking him or her to also concern themselves with worry about having to probate your estate, wait for the court to do something about your property, and all those kinds of headaches. By creating a will, you can do something about that. When everyone knows that you have a will then there is no question about where your property will go or how it will get there.

While you're at it, a good idea would be to have a reading of your will so that your family understands your intentions before you pass away. You should do this not to create family strife but rather, to avoid it. Many people are secretive about their intentions and their will and virtually no one knows what's contained in the document even the executor. You should first talk with the person you name as your executor in your will to make sure that he or she is comfortable with that responsibility. Next, you should plan on sitting down with close family or other people impacted by the will soon thereafter.

I have been able to work with people in my career as an attorney who has had issues with family members who were not comfortable leaving the property in the will. The bottom line is that these people were living lifestyles that the person who drafted the will was not comfortable with. As a result, he or she felt uncomfortable leaving them property or otherwise having property be distributed to them after their passing. The opportunity to read the will allowed the family to discuss these issues and it was not uncommon to see the struggling relative change their life and do better to be able to work our way back into the will. While this may not be a guarantee of success or something that you can bank on occurring for your family the reality of the situation is that it offers an opportunity for your family to discuss what you may have been putting off or otherwise avoiding. 

on a practical level, leaving a legacy for your family to benefit from means doing something good for people who really may need assistance. For example, what if he planned on leaving a few $1000 to a distant relative who you knew was a recent widow or widower Him or herself? Your generosity within the will can mean the difference between him or her not being able to make a rent or mortgage payment for a given month or even a year depending on how much money you leave in the will. By acting in this way, you can make a tremendous difference in the life of someone to that you are related. Or, as we are about to see, you may be able to benefit people or organizations that you are not related to through your will.

Having autonomy on how your property is divided

This is a subject that we talked about to some degree earlier in today's blog post. If you do not have a will in place, then what ends up happening is that a probate court judge will decide on how your property is divided by following the Texas probate code. It's not as if something crazy will happen, most likely, in all actuality, your spouse and nearest relatives such as your children will end up inheriting the lion's share of your property. For many of you reading this blog post that is what you would have intended anyways in a will had you drafted one.

However, that is not something that you should necessarily want to leave to chance. Even if you intend for close family to receive property of yours then you should plan on being direct with your wishes in the form of a will. The reality of the situation is that you can never be too sure about how a property that you have worked hard to accumulate and grow throughout your life will be distributed. This is especially true if you have certain wishes about how individual pieces of property, assets, or even family heirlooms would be divided. No one can know your wishes unless you share them through a valid will.

Additionally, you need to consider how you want your property to be divided if you do not intend for your immediate family to receive most of it. As I mentioned earlier, the Texas probate code sets forth laws on how property should be divided for folks who do not have a will. In that case, the probate court judge will follow the law after determining all your heirs. If you intended to give property to people outside of your immediate family then the only way that this can happen is through a will. 

Your church, the charitable organization, a ministry that you support, or other nonprofit would not be able to receive this property unless you have a will drafted. There is nothing under the Texas probate code that allows a judge to look through your donations and decide that a certain group should receive money from you. Rather, the only way to be able to guarantee that these groups that you support will receive the desired amount of your property or assets after your passing is to have a will created.

After reading today's blog post, you may be wondering where to start with the entire subject of estate planning. While there are many ways to accomplish the estate planning that is desirable for you and your family I would recommend reaching out to established probate and estate planning attorney. Getting information is the first step in the process and allows you to make decisions that are in your best interests and those of your family moving forward.

 Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed probate and estate planning attorneys offer free of charge consultations that are three Houston area locations, over the phone and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas estate planning law as well as about how your family circumstances may be impacted by the creation of a will or the filing of a probate case.

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