Not Too Late for Holiday Resolution: Five Ways to Kick-Start Your Estate Planning in the New Year

Starting estate planning now is essential because it ensures your wishes are clearly documented and legally protected, avoiding unnecessary stress and disputes among loved ones later. Procrastination can lead to significant legal and financial complications.

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Not Too Late for Holiday Resolution: Five Ways to Kick-Start Your Estate Planning in the New Year
5 Min Read February 21st, 2024

"What the New Year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the New Year." – Vern McLellan

People have been making New Year's resolutions with varying degrees of success ever since ancient Babylonians began observing the religious festival known as Akitu nearly 4,000 years ago. Whether in January, March, or September, almost every culture from dynastic China through modern civilizations has a tradition of resetting intentions while resetting the calendar.

And if you're turning 45 or older this year, it may be time to make working on estate planning documents part of your resolutions.

It might sound a little crazy to plan for your passing when most resolutions focus on improving your physical, emotional, and financial health, especially if you are young, but it's not. Many clients are surprised to learn that a comprehensive estate plan can improve your life across all three areas in one fell swoop. 

Because resolutions aren't easy to keep, any goal that can multitask is a win in our book. Here are five suggestions to kick-start your estate plan now.

Make Estate Planning a Priority

Estate planning attorneys have heard every reason in the book for procrastinating on end-of-life planning. Here are the most common excuses (and why you shouldn't fall for them).

  • "I'm young and healthy, so I don't need to worry about it yet."  

             Accidents or catastrophic illnesses can happen to anyone at any time.

  • "I don't have many assets to worry about anyway." 

You don't have to be wealthy to need an estate plan. Bank accounts, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, houses, and cars are all assets that will need to be distributed for your estate to be closed.

  • "It's too depressing and stressful to think about dying." 

It will be much harder for your loved ones to manage it after your injury/death than it will be for you to do it now.

  • "All that legal stuff is so confusing. I don't even know where to start." 

Estate planning can be confusing, but that's why there are knowledgeable professionals available to help you. You don't have to do it alone.

  • "I can't afford to pay for a will right now."

           It often costs your loved ones more to get your estate through probate if you die intestate (without a will) than it costs you to draft one.

  • "My family members will take care of the kids."

If you die without a will, it's the court, not you, who will decide who receives custody of your minor children or pets. This could be bad news if there are people you don't want to be their guardian.

  • "Everyone knows how I feel about life support/organ donation already."

Even if you're a registered organ donor, your loved ones may not know how you feel about important medical decisions like resuscitation, pain management, long-term life support, etc. They'll go with their own if they don't know your preferences.

As uncomfortable as it can be to think about the end of your life, having an estate plan is the best and most responsible way to give yourself and your loved ones the gift of peace of mind in the face of tremendous difficulty.

Plan for Your Potential Incapacity

It's one thing to assume your friends and family know how you'd want 

your end-of-life care managed, but it's quite another for them to face the reality of making such consequential decisions without your clear direction.

Studies show that only 32% of Americans have a will, and 34% of those aged 35–54 have never discussed estate planning with anyone.

It doesn't have to be that way. An estate plan can do more than just list your estate's beneficiary designations. A good plan may also include:

  • Durable power of attorney, which gives a trusted individual the authority to manage your financial affairs should you be rendered unable to manage on your own.
  • Medical power of attorney, which gives a trusted individual the authority to make healthcare decisions if you are incapacitated.
  • Advanced medical directive, also known as a living will, which outlines your preferences for life-saving interventions and medical care in the event of a permanent vegetative state or otherwise terminal diagnosis.

Use estate planning as an opportunity to preemptively reduce the mental and emotional burden your loved ones and medical team will face if you can't make decisions for yourself.

Cover All Your Bases

When creating an estate plan, do your best to plan for as much as possible. Make sure you've accounted for all your assets, made guardianship arrangements for minor children and pets, updated all beneficiary designations, and named an executor (and a trustee if you have a trust). 

This is where having a knowledgeable estate planning lawyer saves you time, money, and stress.

You must also ensure the important people in your life know you've made them. Don't let your executor be among the 54% of executors who didn't know they were responsible for executing a will until an attorney notified them after a loved one died. Likewise, ensure your children aren't part of the 52% of beneficiaries who don't know where their parents' estate planning documents are stored.

Working collaboratively with your attorney, accountant, medical team, and beneficiaries is the best way to ensure your wishes are honored.

Don't Set It and Forget It

An estate plan should be considered a living legal document that changes alongside your circumstances. Marriages, divorces, births, deaths, business successes or failures, changes to estate law, and a host of other factors can change the effectiveness of your will or trust. 

It's smart to add a review of your estate plan to your list of New Year's resolutions every year to ensure it's always in line with your wishes.

Dedicate it to Someone You Love

We all know that New Year's resolutions often fail. Don't let it happen to you—think about what motivates you, whether it's writing your goals down, breaking them down into steps, setting a due date, or having an accountability buddy. 

Lots of folks need external accountability to tackle a project. Consider dedicating the task of creating your estate plan to a loved one, such as your mom, spouse, or new baby. Make it a "gift" to that person, and you may feel more compelled to get it done. You'll also be able to celebrate with them once it's achieved.

Find Your Estate Planning Ally

Rather than avoid a potentially uncomfortable discussion, use the start of the new year to take control of your legacy. Get help with your estate planning. Keep in mind, even if you get around to it months into the year -- getting it done is what is important. 

The importance of timely estate planning cannot be overstated. It provides peace of mind, secures a family's financial future, ensures personal wishes are honored, and prevents unnecessary stress and conflict among loved ones. Delaying estate planning risks leaving these critical decisions to the state, which may not reflect an individual's wishes and can lead to unfavorable outcomes for everyone involved.

Additionally, it's crucial to incorporate Long-Term Care Insurance into your planning and ensure your family is aware of the policy's existence. Remember, life precedes death, and unfortunately, there's a significant likelihood that you will require long-term care services, whether at home or in a facility before you pass away. 

Planning eases the stress and anxiety otherwise placed on those you love. Your future self, as well as your family and friends, will thank you.

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About the Author

Shann M. Chaudhry, Esq., is a San Antonio Attorney and managing member of his firm. His firm specializes in several areas, including estates and trusts, elder law, and real estate.

LTC News Contributor Shann Chaudhry

Shann Chaudhry

Contributor since February 21st, 2024

Editor's Note

As you live longer, the chance you'll need long-term care goes up. This can be concerning for you and your family, especially when you think about the high costs of care at home, assisted living, or nursing homes. These costs can quickly eat into your savings, and health insurance or Medicare and traditional health insurance will only pay for short-term skilled care, leaving your family to figure out how to care for you without enough resources.

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Long-Term Care Insurance can help you choose where and how you get care based on what you want and need. It also helps your family by taking away the worry about money and giving them options for professional care, making things less stressful and hard on everyone.

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The best time to add Long-Term Care Insurance to your retirement plan is when you are in your 40s or 50s, but you can find affordable options in your 60s and beyond, depending on your level of health.

LTC Insurance Specialists Help Find Options

Long-Term Care Insurance can be complicated for some people, plus there are many insurance companies and options to consider. Different plans, varying costs, and intricate details can make shopping for coverage daunting. A qualified LTC Insurance specialist understands how these products work, how they are underwritten, and how they get used when you need care.

Think of an LTC specialist as your expert guide through this complex landscape, helping you shop for the best coverage at the lowest cost.

Unlike agents tied to one company, Independent LTC Insurance specialists typically work with the top-rated insurers that offer these products. This means they can give you unbiased advice, not just try to sell you the best option for their company. They'll focus on finding the perfect plan to fit your needs, budget, and preferences, giving you accurate quotes from all the top companies. 

Long-Term Care Insurance premiums and underwriting standards vary dramatically between insurance companies, making an LTC Insurance specialist very valuable in finding the proper coverage and the lowest cost. 

Help Find Quality Care with LTC NEWS

The job of finding care for a loved one can be overwhelming. However, the LTC NEWS Caregiver Directory makes it easier to find quality care. The directory is a free, comprehensive national database with over 80,000 providers of long-term care services, simplifying finding qualified caregivers or appropriate care facilities. You can search for providers where you or your loved one lives and read about their qualifications and options. 

For those with an LTC policy, LTC NEWS can help process claims from any Long-Term Care Insurance policy. LTC NEWS, in partnership with Amada Senior Care, a nationally recognized in-home health care agency, ensures that you and your loved ones receive the quality care you deserve by getting the benefits you paid for with your LTC policy. This service comes at no cost or obligation - Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim.

These four LTC NEWS guides will assist you in trying to find appropriate long-term services for a loved one:

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