Everyone has an estate and every estate has value, but this value is not often monetary. It is all too easy to dismiss estate planning as something that is not needed until we have amassed a certain amount of wealth. Until we reach that magic, subjective number we can be proud to pass on to our family and friends, there seems to be no point in planning our “estate.” While this is an easy justification to keep us from answering the difficult questions, in truth, we leave our family and friends with the overwhelming burden of making decisions on our behalf that we, during our lifetime or competency, never had the courage to face ourselves. My heart breaks whenever I hear someone wonder aloud, “What would she have wanted?” This question is not usually asked to determine how Momma would want her collection of gold bars distributed between her children. No matter how many times one of her sons may have forgotten her birthday or how many times one of her daughters remembered, we can usually all agree that, in the end, Momma loved her children and would have wanted those gold bars distributed equally. The question is always asked when a guardian needs to be appointed for a minor child. Regardless of the size, color, or shape of your money, as a parent of minor children please execute a will in order to appoint a guardian, if for no other reason. This person will step into your shoes and raise your children as if they were their own. Parents face a hard decision when determining who they would want to act as a guardian. The best fit may not be a closely related sibling or grandparent. Most often it comes down to geographical location and religious beliefs. I hear this question most often asked if Momma is unable to communicate with doctors and a potentially risky health care decision must be made. Communicate openly with your family and friends now about what decisions you would want made. Let them know whether you would want extraordinary measures taken and life prolonging treatment if you are in the end stages of your life. The best thing to do is to execute a health care power of attorney, which appoints someone to make decisions for you if you are unable to communicate with the doctors, and an advanced directive, if you do not want life prolonging treatment at end stages of your life. If you do not face these questions now, you may force your children to make these decisions for you without any guidance. These are only a few examples of the non-monetary decisions everyone should make when planning for their incapacity or death. Each “estate” has its own considerations and its own, heartrending questions that need to be answered. Remember that your family and friends love you and they all believe they have your best interests at heart. Usually, each person will have their own deep-seated belief as to what your best interests are and sometimes these beliefs are in direct conflict. Planning an “estate,” regardless of how much money you have, permits your family and friends to be at peace with the decisions that they may be forced to make on your behalf.
Originally published in Southern Neighbor