There are multiple reasons that people procrastinate about estate planning. Perhaps the most obvious is that it is very unpleasant to think extensively about what might happen after one’s death. Another reason that people frequently put off estate planning is specifically that they have convinced themselves that the process is far too complicated. When people don’t feel confident that they understand what the process involves and requires from them, they may have an easier time justifying their procrastination to themselves. However, estate planning doesn’t have to be intensely unpleasant, nor doesn’t need to be particularly complicated.
Just a few simple steps can help people to start to protect their interests and their loved ones from the uncertainty of the future. These are the first steps that someone will likely need to take when creating an estate plan for the first time.
1. Inventory their assets
One of the most important steps in the estate planning process involves reviewing and inventorying personal holdings. Individuals may need to spend several weeks on this process as they verify what they own in detail. Everything from furniture and vehicles to real property and financial accounts will need to be part of this process.
2. Identify specific needs
Does the testator have young children who will require a guardian? Do they have an adult child with special needs who will need someone to care for them and additional resources if they lose a parent? Other dependent family members and even pets can influence what kind of document someone needs in their estate plan. Figuring out who will require support after the testator dies will help them integrate the right protections into their estate plan for those dependents.
3. Choose the appropriate documents
Almost everyone would benefit from having a basic will and powers of attorney in place, but others might need a trust or advance medical directive in addition to basic documents. Identifying the list of documents that could be beneficial for someone’s unique circumstances and creating a brief outline of the terms someone hopes to include in those documents will help someone create an effective estate plan. (It’s okay if this step is taken simultaneously with the next one, as not everyone can ID which documents will serve their needs best without some assistance.)
4. Meet with a lawyer to draft and finalize documents
Once someone understands their goals and needs, they will then be in an ideal position to sit down with an attorney to draft an estate plan. While there are low-cost digital services that allow people to plug in their own information into wills and powers of attorney documents, etc. the documents that they create may not hold up to scrutiny and probate court and may not even fully comply with state law. Having lawyers craft customized documents will typically offer testators the most protection.
Occasional follow-ups will likely be necessary to ensure that an estate plan is still valid and up-to-date. But, taking these steps will take much of the stress and guesswork out of estate planning and can make it easier for someone to stop procrastinating about this important and protective process.