The estate planning process is often initiated by one spouse and is met with hesitation or procrastination by the other. So how do you broach the subject?
Before starting, we need to understand that the subject of death and incapacity can create a lot of uncomfortable feelings. They may prefer avoiding the subject to dealing with the unease caused by considering their own limitations and mortality.
Unfortunately, sticking our heads in the sand is not going to provide a positive outcome. The need to create an estate plan does not go away and neither does the discomfort. These talking points are intended to address certain common objections.
1. “Why do I need an estate plan now?”
This is a common objection. People believe they need to wait until a later point. Maybe once they’re older or once they build up a large estate. But this is a mistake. Tragedy can strike at any time, at any age, and at any asset level. Estate planning isn’t just about dividing up your property. It is about making important medical and financial decisions. It is about making your desires and wishes known. It is about empowering the people you trust the most to take care of you and your loved ones. Tomorrow is not promised to anyone. The time to plan is now.
2. “If something happens to me, you (the spouse) will inherit everything and be able to make decisions for me”
Although the spouse is favored in California Probate law, it is not always the case that the spouse will inherit the estate. Under the intestacy provisions, the spouse may need to share the estate with children or living parents. Spouses do not automatically get access to their spouse’s medical information or get to make decisions. There could be delays or even court hearings before a spouse gets the powers they assume to possess.
But what if something happens to both spouses? If you have children, who will raise them and control your estate for them? If you have children from a previous relationship, they may end up disinherited. What about taxes, court fees, and legal burdens of transferring property ownership?
Creating an estate plan is an act of love. It is about making your surviving spouse and loved ones better off. It is about easing the legal, financial, and emotional burden caused by your death or incapacity. It isn’t as much about you as it is about your spouse and loved ones.
3. If all else fails, remind that your spouse that you already have an estate plan.
Without planning, you are using the default estate plan created by the State of California called “probate.” The state law is based on what legislators, judges, and administrators believe it should be. It does not take personal wishes not expressed in a valid estate plan into consideration. The process of probate is long, expensive, and stressful. The good news is you can opt-out of the State plan by creating your own estate plan instead.
There are many more advantages to creating your own estate plan. These are just the common talking points that you can use. Just remember that this is a discussion about getting your estate plan together, not a lecture.