“No one wants to think about dying. But refusing to look at the documents that will determine where your money goes when you pass away will not make you live longer. It will just make sorting through everything more difficult for your heirs.”

So begins Paul Sullivan’s recent article in the New York Times, and we must admit, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Most people simply don’t want to deal with what they imagine will be a mountain of decisions and paperwork to create an estate plan, and they especially don’t want to think about their own death. It’s not that they truly believe avoiding it will help them live forever, it’s just that they know they aren’t going to die tomorrow or next week, so estate planning really isn’t a high priority… yet.

It’s time now for some straight talk. Any one of us—including you—could die tomorrow. Or next week. You could be in a car accident, your plane could crash, or you could simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If and when that occurs, what will happen to your spouse and children?

There are two answers to that question:

  1. If you have no planning in place your assets will likely go through a lengthy and expensive probate process, losing some value in the process, eventually to be divided amongst your closest living relatives. If you are married your spouse may have to fight your parents about your wishes regarding burial and memorial. And if your spouse dies with you in that terrible car crash your children will be raised by whichever faintly qualified relative steps up to the plate—your parents? Your in-laws? Your 23 year old sister? And if nobody steps up…
  2. If you DO have planning in place your assets will transfer quickly and smoothly to the beneficiaries you’ve named, in the amounts you have specified. If you have a spouse that person will be taken care of, while perhaps some of your estate is set aside for your children’s education, or to help them buy a home. Your children will receive their inheritance at a time of your choosing; when you feel they will be ready for the responsibility. Your parents and your spouse will know exactly how to arrange your burial and memorial, and will feel a sense of peace and closure knowing that they are following your wishes.

These are hard truths, and no one denies that they are difficult and uncomfortable to consider, but the heartache that can result from neglecting to think about these things is even more painful to imagine.