Lesson #1: Everyone Should Have an Estate Plan . . . or at Least a Will
Let’s face it: Few of us like to think about death—let alone our own mortality. But having a sit-down with an estate attorney will take up far less time of your free time than the time (and sanity) suck that can be the probate process for your loved ones.
And I should know. In my house, we now refer to life events as either happening pre-Victor or post-Victor. Anything good and joyous typically applies to the pre- phase—before my life essentially imploded after I received that clichéd 3 A.M. call that my father had suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage. At 54.
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Since then, I have spent what likely amounts to months of my life meeting with sundry lawyers, visiting one too many government offices, juggling endless bureaucratic red tape and having dozens of documents notarized … and renotarized. (I’ve seriously considered becoming a notary myself!)
And if I thought that writing out check after check to cover endless wedding expenses bordered on the comical, I can tell you that money really adds up when you have a stable of attorneys on retainer. Of course, the little annoyances of untangling an estate can also cost you.
Take my father’s electric blue Harley—a bike that I will never drive because I can barely lift it, let alone straddle it long enough to kick-start the thing. You see, my father lost the deed. He also originally bought the bike in Connecticut, but somehow still managed to register it in Virginia. In order for me to transfer it to my name in New York, I had to mail four different notarized documents and a check to both the Connecticut DMV and the Virginia DMV. Have I mentioned that we also never found the keys?
To be fair, there are upsides to being the executor of an estate. Nothing can ever replace my dad, but, in his absence, I am grateful to have these reminders in my life.
But if you take the time to create a smart estate plan, you’ll not only extend a courtesy to the important people in your life, but you’ll also safeguard hard-earned assets for future generations. It may seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many of my friends’ parents don’t even have basic wills—and outright refuse to talk about it.
Case in point: One of my estate attorneys, a father of two, recently confessed to me that he and his wife (also an estate attorney!) don’t have a will.
Depending on how complicated your situation is, you can either hire an estate attorney to help guide you through the process, or draft your own last will and testament using a site like legalzoom.com, which offers the service for a starting rate of just $69.
My own attorney’s mind-blowing admission, coupled with my dad’s lack of proper planning, inspired me and my husband to draft up a will and an estate plan, which covers everything from naming an executor to electing the lucky soul who’d be tasked with handling my husband’s burgeoning art book collection. Since we have no kids, we even drafted a plan for the care of our two spoiled Dachshunds—one of which, I may add, was my dad’s dog!