Feeling My Way Through Estate Planning

written by Bari Tessler October 5, 2021
Feeling My Way Through Estate Planning

Dear Money Adventurer,

So often, when we think of planning for the future, we’re looking to our goals and dreams to create what comes next in our lives.

But what about the future that comes after us?

Do you have a plan in place to protect and provide for your loved ones after your death?

For so many of us, this question is full of fear and uncertainty. We’re brought face to face with our mortality. On top of that, we have no idea how to navigate the practical steps necessary to put a plan in place.

For me, moving through these practical steps of creating an estate plan was really challenging.

But I probably say that when I’m in the middle of any new big money learning.

Then I gather all my somatic tools to help keep me present. I use my money tools to help me learn how to unpack this new money lesson. I give myself grace and compassion to get through it, reminding myself that I usually feel more confident and relaxed once I’m on the other side.

This particular money lesson brought me face to face with my death, my husband’s death, leaving our son behind, and planning for that future.

All hard stuff to think about for me.

If it’s hard for you, too, take a deep breath. I’m right here with you.

This intersection of financial literacy and emotional literacy runs deep and tender, offering an opportunity to care and provide for our loved ones even after we’re gone.

My estate planning journey started years ago when I interviewed a wonderful colleague, local estate planner Martha Hartney. As an estate planner, Martha is an attorney who specializes in helping folks plan how to safeguard their money, possessions, children, even their emotional and intellectual legacy. She was a wonderful guest, walking me through the questions she would ask a client with so much compassion, grace, and understanding.

My son was four years old at the time, and I could barely contemplate the questions Martha was asking me because, if you’re the parent of minor children, the most pivotal piece of your estate plan is – what will happen to them after you die?

I’m so open and willing to have so many conversations, to sit with challenging emotions and the wisdom they have to share, but facing the conversation of death and what would happen to my young son if anything happened to my husband and I was almost more than I could take.

We hit pause a few times.

It was a profoundly powerful interview – I learned so much. And it made Forest and I take a hard look at what we needed to do to ensure our son was protected and cared for should anything tragic happen unexpectedly to us.

It took us many more years before we were finally ready to invest in an estate planner. It was on our to-do list forever, and it only recently became the right time for us to commit to this investment in planning for our family’s future.

So, what is an estate plan?

An estate plan is a collection of legal documents – including your will, trusts, and power of attorney – that protects your assets, property, and loved ones if you are incapacitated or pass away. Your power of attorney designates someone to act legally on your behalf if you are unable to. If you have minor children, you will also designate a guardian to ensure they are cared for temporarily and in the long term should anything happen to you.

A will alone is only effective in the event of your death and does not offer protection or care for your children if you are incapacitated. Before your loved ones receive what you have left for them in your will, the will must first go through probate.

Probate is the court-supervised process of validating the will of a deceased person, or decedent. Required by law, probate involves identifying the person’s final assets, paying their last debts, and distributing their estate’s property to the proper heirs – and it can be a lengthy process that leaves your loved ones vulnerable.

Trusts don’t need to pass through probate, which means that your family members receive the legacy you’ve left them sooner, and with less stress.

What does estate planning look like?

I need to be honest; the process was very uncomfortable for me.

We sat in meetings, answering questions and itemizing assets – everything from owning a home and life insurance to retirement plans, business royalties, and recurring income – determining how our assets would be distributed. Bravely attempting to weave together a loving legacy of family and belonging that was about the assets but so much more.

Because our son is a minor, we had to designate someone to manage the trust we created, and decide when to pass assets on to our son, ultimately deciding to stagger the trust allocation over a number of years to offer long-term support.

We had to decide how much money per year to leave for our pet’s care.

We had to assign an executor to make our health decisions in case we no longer could.

We had to decide what would happen if we were left in a vegetative state, or whether we wanted to be kept on life support, and, if we did, for how many days.

We had to ask and answer many tough questions like this. Some were surprising and unexpected, but all of them were hard to feel, difficult to digest, and far too real.

Through meeting after meeting, I tried to do a body check-in, but it was all I could do just to follow my frantic mind.

Oh, I’m looking at my phone again.

And again.

And again.

“What did she say?!”

Now I’m ready to run screaming from the room.

I wanted to do anything and everything but to be there, to be present with those questions.

At one point, Forest reached out and put his hand on my back. At that moment, I was able to feel his care and support, and I was able to calm down a little, to stay in my body a bit more. But it wasn’t until long after we had left that I was able to finally come back to my body and look at what this process was bringing up for me.

Even after three decades immersed in deep, personal, and professional money work, I still can struggle with big emotions in the moment. Our emotions won’t ever go away. We are human, after all. But we can learn tools to work with them, and this can make a world of difference.

I just think all of these big financial and life steps are hard for many of us, in so many different ways, and that’s okay. Expected, even.

So, please be gentle with yourself.

What are some next steps you can take?

Do a body check-in. Take a moment to notice how you’re feeling in your body and what’s coming up for you here.

Start with baby steps. Check out Smart Money Mamas “In Case of Emergency Binder” for an accessible approach to organize essential family, financial, and need-to-know information to ensure your family has what they need in case of emergency.

Dive deeper. Listen in to my heartfelt interview with Martha Hartney for a completely unfiltered, vulnerably honest, wisdom-packed perspective on the importance of estate planning. This tender, intimate conversation is oh so real. Martha brings wisdom and compassion to the steps you need to take to safeguard your children, assets, and belongings in case you are incapacitated or pass away. Moving through step by step, she explains the process of temporary and long-term guardianship, and what happens to young children when their parents die unexpectedly without a plan in place. Explore what it means to share your emotional and spiritual wealth, and the beautiful way that Martha captures poignant memories and personal beliefs to create a tangible remembrance for the loved ones we leave behind.

Find an Estate Planner. Check-in with your local community. Whether that’s friends, local business colleagues, or other parents from your kid’s school, ask who they are working with or who they would recommend.

Commit to the Investment. Estate Planning is not cheap; it really is a financial investment. But now, being on the other side of it, I’m so grateful that we finally did it, that we really contemplated these tough decisions, and got all our paperwork in place. I can sleep better knowing that we have a loving, strategic plan in place.

Our final meeting with our estate planner was lighter. There was a lot of laughter and dark humor and, for once, I didn’t feel like I needed to run away. As we signed the final paperwork, our estate planner joked that Forest could go skydiving now, but his dream has always been to fly a plane. (I would never do either!)

Ten days after we signed those papers, we ran into some old friends on our evening walk. One of them is a local pilot who flies Cessnas – and he took Forest out to fly his first plane the next day!

It was a beautiful acknowledgment and celebration of the deeply meaningful, intimately personal, and financially practical work that we saw through to the end, and all the baby steps in between.

Is it time for you to start taking your own steps around estate planning?

Deep breath.

You have my full support. We can do this together.

Baby step by brave leap,

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