Estate planning and life insurance go hand-in-hand. Or, as Forrest Gump might put it: they go together like peas and carrots.
Thinking about your last will and testament and other end-of-life decisions usually involves thinking about your life insurance needs, too.
Unfortunately, avoiding one usually involves avoiding the other – and the majority of Americans are falling short when it comes to estate planning.
Do you have an estate plan? Do you have life insurance? If not, here are some compelling reasons to get you going on both fronts.
Everyone Has an Estate
The popular connotations of the word “estate” can make it sound like estate planning is just for the very wealthy. But you don’t have to live at Downton Abbey to have an estate. Your estate is simply everything you own.
If you’re just starting out – or starting over after a setback – it could be your estate consists of personal belongings that will fit in the back of a truck and the cash in your checking account. Even if you don’t own property or have any assets, from a legal standpoint, you still have an estate and you still need to do some basic estate planning.
No matter your age or financial circumstances, you should have a last will and testament (commonly just referred to as a will) and a healthcare directive.
If you don’t have a complicated estate, then you can probably DIY these important documents without paying an attorney. For instance, DoYourOwnWill.com shares helpful information and has online forms.
Maybe you’re thinking if you don’t have a sizeable estate, you can have your peas without the carrots. Once you have a will, you don’t really need to think about life insurance, right? Wrong — because you can actually expand your estate with life insurance.
If you don’t have significant assets to leave for those you love, life insurance can replace the income you provide and help support your family. Life insurance can be a safety net for your children, your spouse, or others who depend on you for financial support.
In fact, life insurance is something to consider even if you’re young and single. Do you live with a romantic partner or roommate who would have trouble paying rent and be forced to move without your financial contributions? Do you chip in to help support a disabled parent or special-needs sibling?
On the flip side, if you do have a larger estate, life insurance can help protect it and make things less stressful for those you leave behind. Here’s why: life insurance will provide immediate funds for your heirs, to be sure they will have cash for administration of your estate and won’t have to rush to sell things from your estate right away to raise funds.
Making Probate Less Painful
Even if you have a will – and you should! – your beneficiaries will likely have to wait while your estate goes through probate court.
Probate is a legal process that deals with the assets and debts left behind after someone dies. The probate process can include all aspects of estate administration, including providing the validity of a will, choosing an estate administrator, executor, or representative, paying all applicable estate taxes and other debts, identifying heirs, and distributing assets to the heirs as described in the will (or according to law if there is no will).
Probate can be time consuming, with many states requiring 30 to 90 day waiting periods as part of the process – and it can drag on for much longer if your will or the court’s asset distribution is contested by a potential heir.
Depending on the size of your estate and the laws in the state where you live, proper estate planning may allow your heirs to avoid the probate process altogether, or at least minimize the time probate will take. If you live in a state with low thresholds for probate court, it’s even more important to be sure you have enough life insurance to provide interim support for your estate’s trustee and your heirs.
Most working adults fall somewhere in the middle. You may have some assets – perhaps a home, car, savings and investments – that will go to your heirs, but not enough accumulated wealth to replace the financial support your salary provides. This is when determining the right mix of “peas and carrots” is perhaps most critical.
You should consult with an attorney who specializes in estate planning and/or your financial advisor. Seek out experts who can assist you with estate planning decisions, including how much life insurance makes sense for your situation.
Embracing the Inevitable
Another Forrest Gump quote comes to mind when thinking about end-of-life planning: “Mama always said, dying was a part of life. I sure wish it wasn’t.”
Like Forrest, we all know that death is part of life, yet a lot of us try to pretend otherwise by refusing to plan for the possibility. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found only 44 percent of American adults have a will. Worse yet, that’s down from 51 percent in 2005.
Even more shocking, a recent Care.com survey found only 36 percent of Americans with children under 18 do not have an end-of-life plan in place. This is especially troubling, since parents should always have a will in order to name guardians for their children.
The Caring.com survey also found 78 percent of Millennials, 64 percent of Generation Xers and 40 percent of Baby Boomers don’t have a will.
Nobody likes thinking about death. Discomfort and avoidance prevents many people from end-of-life planning. Whatever your age and financial situation – and whether or not you have children – having an estate plan is essential.
Peace of Mind for You and Those You Love
Estate planning should be a requisite part of Adulting 101 – something we all do in order to protect and distribute our assets the way we want them to be distributed. And doing what we can to provide for those we might leave behind.
Part of caring for your loved ones is considering what would happen if you were no longer in the picture. If you already have an estate plan, that’s terrific! Review your estate planning documents regularly and keep them updated to reflect changes in your finances or family situation.
And if you are part of the majority of American adults who don’t have a will, then stop procrastinating. Estate planning is a simple, powerful way to protect those you love and give them – and yourself – greater peace of mind.
Forrest Gump’s most famous catchphrase is often parodied, but it also sticks in our brains because it conveys an essential truth: “Life is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you’re going to get.”
Life is full of twists and turns we can’t predict – good and bad. But estate planning is something that gives us a little more control. Having an estate plan can be a buffer against one of life’s cruelest twists, offering stability, certainty and comfort for those who are left behind when someone dies.
Do you have a will and health-care directive? Do you have life insurance coverage that’s sufficient for your situation?
If not, then put estate planning at the top of your financial to-do list. Make sure your final wishes are in writing and the people who depend on you will be protected and provided for, no matter what.