Things come and go, right? So do people … so will you, so will I. You know where I’m headed with this, right? Uh-huh, it’s the big M, and I ain’t talkin’ about Marriage. I’m talking MORTALITY. One day, we’re not going to be here anymore, walking on this green earth; this truth we know. So if this ONE thing is so incredibly evident, why don’t we plan for it?
Y’all know I’m the planning Pink Elephant (audacious goals) queen! I continue to stress how important it is for you to set goals for things you want and hope to happen. But what about planning for that one thing that’s fo’sho going to happen? Like our eventual demise. I don’t know about you, but when I think about it this way, I feel like I can deal with that inevitability better. Primarily because I’m a control freak and like being in charge of all aspects of my life (or in this case my afterlife). So I want to be sure things are handled according to my expectations. Not one of my sisters, or my son. They may mean well, but, Lawd, my son is frugal as all get out. I don’t want him ordering my casket from Alibaba.com. And one of my sisters is already telling us now that she wants us to wear purple flip flops to her funeral. I PROMISE you, if I’m still around and her wishes are not in writing, that is SO NOT HAPPENING! So you can see the importance of getting your business in order now.
Let’s get to work and break the preparation for a fabulous afterlife into manageable small bites, shall we?
First things first: This process of taking care of your assets after/before death is called estate planning. How you choose an estate planning attorney will depend on your needs. This person can better help you understand the process and all of its elements, such as if a will and/or a trust will be beneficial and cost effective for you. Your attorney will explain what happens after you die. Most importantly, she or he can walk you through what I’ve heard described as “Purgatory on Earth,” the dreaded probate process.
Probate is handled by the court system. When you die, all of the things you own (assets) and people or bills you still owe (creditors and liabilities) and people you want to receive (beneficiaries and/or inheritors) all of your worldly treasures (like your complete and pristine collection of OWN Magazines which will be worth something one day) have to be doled out and/or paid. Probate is the time when all of this information gathering goes on. Depending on how janky of a job you did in outlining who gets what and what still needs to be paid, this process can take a really long time! Don’t do this to your family. A will and/or trust help make things easier for your loved ones. (Some of my friends still aren’t speaking to their siblings because things got so ugly after they lost their parents.)
Let’s start with wills. You need a will. No matter your age. A will goes into effect after you die and dictates how and to whom you want your possessions distributed. It is very necessary. You can write a will yourself or hire an attorney. If you go the DIY route, Susie Orman’s financial security package (for $99.95 or five easy payments of $19.99) is a great way to start. Or you can try LegalZoom.com (starting at $69 per their website) or RocketLawyer (prices vary widely depending on whether you only need a document – starting at $20 per – or you would rather purchase a membership at $39 – $499+ per month). A lawyer, depending on your regional market, can start at $50/hour and up, with an estimated average being around $175 an hour. I recommend trying a combination of both: develop a document on one of the legal website platforms or using Susie’s templates, then take that document to a for real for real lawyer. (No, NOT your cousin Pookie who made it through his first year of law school.) By coming in with a document you’ve already started, hopefully you’ll have the basics in place which may save the attorney a bit of time, and ultimately, save you money.
There are several types of trusts. A living trust lets you stay in control of your property (or other assets) while you’re still living, but also dictates how some or all of your assets will be managed after you transition on to bigger and better things in the great beyond. The biggest distinction between a trust and a will is that it is effective as soon as you make it! Not after you die. The item (or items) that you put into a trust – like your house or life insurance policies – provide the value of the trust. A revocable living trust is helpful should you become mentally unable to make decisions about your affairs. You can assign someone to handle all of that for you in life and in death.
Like anything, you’ll find that there are pros and cons to having a trust, and they vary depending on things like state laws, your health, and the type of assets you own. Fees are going to fluctuate greatly based upon how you tackle this with your lawyer; a general base start is $2000 – $2500. Again, try some of the DIY options above, and take those with you.
For more help, learn more about the differences between a will and a trust here. And lastly, be sure all documents are notarized! That’s what makes them legal. So, dear little sister of mine seeking purple-flip-flop-wearing-mourners at your funeral, writing it on a piece of paper and leaving it on your night stand doesn’t count.
I know shoe shopping is way more exciting than all of this wills and trusts work, which can be daunting, and frankly, is why you keep putting it off. Right? But you definitely need to explore this topic sooner rather than later, and stop sticking your head in the sand. It took me years to get to this point. I started with Susie. You start where you feel most comfortable. (And don’t try to hold me legally accountable for any of the suggestions I offer up in this here article, cause they are only that, suggestions.) But the key take away here is to start. No. Matter. How. Old. You. Are! You’ll feel confident in your day-to-day operations knowing that you’ve taken care of yourself for your loved ones in life and death.