If you’ve ever thought about drafting a will to provide for your loved ones after you die, or even just making sure there is someone to take care of things if you become seriously ill, now is the time to get it done. The Indiana Supreme Court, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, recently eased rules for executing estate plan documents to allow for remote signing and witnessing. That means you can put your plan in place from the comfort—and social distance—of your own living room.
Estate planning is more than just deciding who gets your stuff when you die. It includes planning for what will happen if you become incapacitated before you die. It’s planning for who will care for your minor children if you cannot, and who will manage their inheritances. It may include careful planning to provide for a loved one with special needs and an uncertain future. It may even require planning to protect your loved ones from themselves.
So how do you get started?
First, commit to putting a plan in place. Thinking about our own mortality is hard. Don’t give up. You know your life, the people in it, your values and priorities, and your vision for the future better than anyone else. That means you really are the best person to make these decisions. And if you start to falter, remember your estate plan is not irrevocable. Any decisions you make today can and should be reviewed periodically and changed if necessary.
Second, grab a pen and paper and make some notes:
- Jot down the names of your family members, such as your spouse, children, parents, and siblings.
- Make a list of your assets—this might include things like real estate, bank accounts, investments, retirement plans, business interests, life insurance, personal property like jewelry and household items, etc. Don’t worry if you don’t have all this information at your fingertips. To start, just make the best list you can.
- Make a list of your liabilities—mortgages, loans, other debts you may owe. Again, this is just a start, so don’t worry if it’s not perfect.
- Think about who you want to inherit your money and possessions. Are there any specific items you want to leave to a particular individual or charity?
- If you have minor children, think about who you want to care for your children if you cannot. (Fair warning, for many of us, this was the hardest part of estate planning when our children were young.)
- Think about your own life. If you were to become incapacitated, who would you trust to manage your affairs? Your healthcare decisions?
Third, consider talking to an experienced estate planning attorney about how to pull it all together, including possibilities you may not have considered and pitfalls to avoid.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that unexpected things happen. Preparing for the imaginable, controlling the things we can control, and putting smart plans in place now can help ease anxieties about what the future may hold. And the good news is, you do not have to do this alone. Take this time out of the hustle and bustle of ordinary life to get your estate plan in place.