As a financial advisor, I talk about estate planning all the time. Many people understand that it’s a very important and unselfish thing to do, but it’s hard to get it done. Some people think it’s about transferring money, but I believe estate planning is about living with a peace of mind, a clear plan and leaving a legacy of love for your family. Having a plan in place takes some stress away from relatives that are dealing with final arrangements, paperwork and grief. An estate plan is a living breathing document that needs to be reviewed on the regular basis to make sure that all of the people who were named in the plan are still alive and willing to perform their roles and receive gifts. As your family grows, you may also want to mention these new members.
My most recent family addition was Lucy, our beloved dog. I recently realized that my estate plan does not specify who will be her guardian and caregiver. That’s why I reached out to Justin Bertron, estate attorney at the Bertron Law Firm.
Justin, what can be done for my fuzzy child?
Dogs are a part of the family, so they should they should be treated like it! Just like parents for minor children, dog owners should name a caretaker (i.e., a family member, friend, charity, humane organization, etc.) for their pet if something happens to them. Once you have selected a caregiver, you should discuss your wishes for your dog with them and confirm that they agree to assume responsibility for your dog if something happens to you. If you have the means, you should also consider setting aside funds to be used to care for your dog. Once you’ve made these decisions, it is critical you put your wishes in writing.
The number one thing people should avoid doing to protect their dog is leaving it to chance. I often hear, “I talked to John and he promised to take care of my pets if something happens to me”. As with estate plans for humans, the same holds true for your pets. There is nothing that will guarantee your wishes for your dog will be honored, unless it is in writing and discussed with all the involved parties. Too often those verbal promises are not upheld in the way they are intended.
What else do you wish people knew about estate planning?
I wish more people understood how important estate planning is, not only for you, but for your loved ones. Generally, people do not view estate planning as a priority because it’s not something that immediately impacts them. The problem, however, is if you do not have an estate plan when you need it, you are too late, and your loved ones will suffer because of it. Helping clients navigate the issues of having a loved one who cannot make their own medical and financial decisions, without even basic estate planning (i.e., financial and medical powers of attorney, will, etc.), is one of the most difficult roles for an attorney. The client must go to a court and be appointed as the incapacitated person’s guardian and/or conservator. This is almost always very expensive, time consuming, and emotionally and physically draining.
I find that my clients sometimes beat themselves up unnecessarily and that takes away energy that could be used to aid the situation. What is something you think your clients are too hard on themselves about?
I have seen numerous clients beat themselves up for not having the “perfect family,” as if such a thing exists. Conflicts can come up in any family, for all sorts of reasons, regardless of an individual’s background. Life is complex and making estate planning decisions can be stressful, regardless of your family situation. Establishing an estate plan that clearly defines what will be done and who will do it will minimize any potential family conflicts or stressors.”
What’s your best tip for someone trying to create a good relationship with their own estate planner?
I think it is important to sit down with your estate planner and interview them before you decide to work with them. Estate planning is very personal, so you want to work with someone you connect with and who understands what is most important to you. If you do not connect with an attorney, it is perfectly acceptable to find another attorney you do feel comfortable working with.
Today we talked about dogs, but I think the same applies to cats, horses and other pets. Please consider including directions for them in your estate plan.
“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Justin Bertron and Bertron Law Firm are not affiliated with Gaia Wealth Management or LPL Financial.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for individual legal advice. Please consult your legal advisor regarding your specific situation.