Most of the benefits of estate planning are pretty obvious. People go to an estate planning attorney because they want to determine how their property will pass after their death. What is not obvious, however, is the residual benefits of the estate planning process. Namely, the reflection on one’s life, the consideration of one’s death, and the contemplation of the future.
Someone once told me a story about their estate planning process that resonated with me. She and her husband worked hard, earned a decent living, and achieved a ripe age. Up to that point, they had never put anything into place, no powers of attorney, no living will, not even a will. They finally decided to have an attorney help them with their plan and they got all the necessary documents in place. Sadly, not long after, the husband suddenly passed away. The unexpected illness and abrupt death of her husband was, no doubt, very difficult for the wife as she made decisions for her husband. However, she was able to make these decisions with peace of mind because they had sat down and made their plan beforehand.
The main thing I took from this story was the fact that the planning process arms you with an important tool, knowledge. The thing about estate planning is that it forces you to confront your own mortality. It makes you consider what you value, who you value, and how you want to be remembered. In turn, your loved ones will have the necessary knowledge to make the appropriate decisions without struggling with ambivalence while mourning your death.
For example, the woman above was presented with the difficult choice of determining whether to take her husband off of life support. This is the sort of choice that is not ever easy to make no matter how much you plan ahead. Nonetheless, she made her choice and her mind is at peace because they had the opportunity to have the difficult conversation and convey their wishes to each other anything happened.
The lesson I have learned from her story and stories like hers is that planning is important and there is no time like the present. Death is inevitable but seldom predictable. You can be healthy one day and struggling for life the next. The only guarantee is that one day you will meet your end, you just don’t get to know when that will be. So, have the difficult conversation, face the void –if only for a bit—and make a plan so that your loved ones don’t have to bear the burden themselves.