As we get older, it’s important to plan for the future – especially when there’s not much future left. While it may conjure images of regal mansions, sprawling grounds, and expensive art in every room, estate planning is something almost everyone needs to think about.
“Literally anything you have, you need to pass along at death,” said Joshua Pops, who practices elder law and estate planning. “A house, bank account, retirements, all the way down to jewelry or gold coins. That’s an estate. Your average estate is an investment account, house, two cars, and what’s in the house.”
For some, it is an uncomfortable thing to think about. Estate planning is a signal that the end is on the horizon, no matter how far away the horizon is. In truth, the sooner you make plans for the future, the sooner you can stop worrying about it.
“Theoretically, once you have a house and you want to figure out who it goes to when you die,” Pops said. “That’s the time people usually start looking into it. It’s more piece of mind when you do it earlier.”
Essentially, you’re planning for a final event. In other cases when you might need a lawyer because something happened that requires a consultation. With death, there is no time to plan after it happens.
“If you’re going through a divorce, you’ve been arrested, these are precipitating events,” Pops said. “With wills or estates, people worry and worry, it nags at them and they put off coming in. That’s the biggest issue.”
Similar to buying a home or investing money, estate planning should be a part of any preparation for the future. Like any life or death decision, it’s important to do a little research. You want to feel comfortable with a family doctor, a real estate agent, or investment planner. It’s no different when it comes to an estate planner. Pops believes that any client should feel comfortable with their lawyer when making such critical decisions.
“A lot of lawyers want to send out a 25-page questionnaire before meeting,” Pops said. “But that can overwhelm people. I always tell clients come with an idea of what they want. Like anything else, client interaction is important. If you have a good conversation with people, it makes it a lot easier.”
Estate planning involves much more than who gets the house or how personal effects will be disbursed. For many, guardianship instructions are the top concern.
“The number one reason people come in is when they have kids,” Pops said. “The number one question is who will raise the kids and manage their money?”
It’s those kinds of questions that can give us pause. Choosing one family member over another can be a contentious task. And, if there are no offspring to consider, the choices get even murkier.
“Who do you want everything left to,” Pops said. “Nieces, nephews, siblings – that’s definitely when you need to get some planning.”
These are all personal and emotional decisions, which may make it easier to put off until later. At some point, though, the decisions have to be made.
“The fact that we’re having a nonchalant business conversation about death (can be difficult),” Pops said. “Some people don’t want to get deeper. Some consultations are five minutes, other times it’s a long, complicated process. It all comes down to what they have and what they want. Some clients have strong opinions about specific gifts.”
Most of the time, the person making the final decisions will set the appointment to see an estate planner. But, when children make the decision for their parents, the parents are still the decision makers.
“Seventy five percent of the time, it’s the parents who initiate contact,” Pops said. “Not so much the children. When it is the children, the only difficulty there is making sure the parents are being listened to, not what the kids want to do.”
To be sure, it’s uncomfortable to think about death, but once those final decision are made, the end will be more comforting for your family if your wishes are already in place.
The Law Office of Joshua Pops focuses on Elder Law in the Vancouver, WA, area, focusing on estate planning, last wills, trusts, probate, guardianships, and Medicaid planning. Contact Joshua Pops at 360-859-0771 or visit his website at joshuapops.com.