“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” – John Wooden

One of the financial tasks many individuals struggle with is completing estate plans.

It is understandable why that may be. Planning your estate isn’t as fun as dreaming about how fantastic your retirement will be, or as exhilarating as watching your investment portfolio rise over time.  And unlike taxes, estate planning doesn’t have any hard deadlines by which it must get done, or penalties to pay for being late. Nevertheless, there can be real costs to delay.

I would like to suggest one potentially motivating idea to help procrastinators get through any roadblocks to meeting with your adviser or attorney to discuss drawing up an estate plan.  Consider this: Estate planning isn't just about leaving a legacy. It’s also about character.

If you haven’t yet checked this item off of your financial to-do list, or if you know there are things that need updating but haven’t got ‘round to it, take a moment and think about what may result if you no longer had the opportunity to plan for your death or were unable to manage your affairs.

Does your estate plan look like something that is orderly, well-thought-out, and makes clear to others your decisions and preferences?  Or, are the arrangements (or lack thereof) such that there may be chaos, confusion, and disagreement, after you are gone or no longer competent to make decisions?

Visualize the impact an incomplete plan may have on the relationships of those you care for. Think about the character it takes to plan for yourself should you become unable to take care of your affairs, but also to take into account the impact on others who must fulfill those roles you once played.

Estate planning deals with much more than “who’ll get my stuff” once you are gone.  It also determines your legacy, and how you will be remembered. 

A complete and thoughtful estate plan demonstrates how much you care about your beneficiaries. Your estate planning:

  • Eases the burden on those who may have to make decisions about your health or finances by documenting your wishes and instructions.  
  • Reduces conflicts over property that may hold a special meaning to you and another.
  • Ensures that property will benefit your beneficiaries in ways that protect your gifts from unnecessary taxes, outside claims, and, in some cases, from the beneficiaries themselves.

A recent trend I've noticed is an increase in do-it-yourself estate planning, and while I’m not an attorney and cannot speak to the legalities of any such documents, I do often cite another quote from Coach Wooden when I talk to individuals about their estate planning documents: “If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?”

So, instead of continuing to hope that estate planning can be put off until tomorrow, choose to demonstrate your character today. Work with your attorney and CFP® professional to make sure that your estate plan truly reflects your goals and wishes, and takes care of those you care for, and who may be asked to care for you in return.