I’ve met a lot of people who avoid estate planning because they don’t want to think about death. To them, estate planning becomes an end-of-life “reckoning” where they feel the need to grapple with what they did and didn’t accomplish or accumulate during their life. Other people are pained even by the thought of preparing their last will. To those living beings, preparing a will is akin to preparing a “death plan.”

But the paradigm of estate planning in the United States is changing. Because of increasing life expectancies, your estate plan can no longer be developed as a death plan. Rather, your estate plan must be a “family emergency and contingency plan.” Your plan and your family’s legal counsel must be there to serve your family for the duration not only your life, but for the lives of your loved ones.

In fact, the most compelling reasons for planning do not require that you have accumulated as much wealth as you desire. The most compelling reason is that even a person of modest accumulation can structure a family legacy, which will do far more than merely leaving behind leftovers for children. I’ve seen clients’ wealth eaten up from medical costs and financial mismanagement during incapacity. Rather than being able to enjoy their last years of retirement in comfort and plenty, these seniors were forced to endure less-pleasing situations.

Family emergency planning requires a thorough plan for management of your assets, especially family homes, real estate, and business interests. While many people may have powers of attorney in place, I rarely see planning that provides for medical and financial crisis.

Once you have prepared for family emergencies, your plan can then turn toward preparing a family legacy. And the truth about legacies is that they do not need to involve a lot of money. Although Bill Gates came from a middle-class family, his father could have provided him with a gem of unimaginable worth from which Bill Jr. could have launched his promising but fledgling computer business, “IBM.” If Bill Gates’ father would have counseled with a good estate and legacy planning attorney, William Henry Gates, Sr. would have learned how to provide his son, Bill Jr. with double or triple his current net worth and a perpetual family gift for good. Perhaps more importantly, with a little insightful counseling, Bill Gates Sr. could have also left behind a legacy of beneficial family culture. And anyone can leave a unique legacy for their family.

Be sure that you see an estate planning attorney who will place emphasis not only on your post-life planning, but also on your family’s needs during your life and your final legacy planning.

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