Important but not (yet) Urgent
There’s a common system of time management, attributed to former president Dwight Eisenhower, that categorizes tasks and projects by their importance and their urgency. Things that are both important and urgent – like a broken arm – should be dealt with immediately, while things that are neither important nor urgent – mindless scrolling through social media during the workday – should have a low priority.
The reality is that important but not urgent tasks and projects often languish until they become urgent. A far off deadline sneaks up on you. That creaky stair finally breaks. If we’d only taken a little time last week, a month ago, three years ago, we wouldn’t be in this mess now!
A perfect example that falls squarely in this category is estate planning. First of all, it’s a tough subject. Nobody likes to think about their own death, or perhaps even worse, their partner’s death. Nobody likes to imagine losing the capacity to make sound decisions. In addition to grappling with tough concepts, you also have to navigate the potentially thorny maze that is “family.” Whom do you want to be in charge when you can’t be? What do you want your legacy to be? Should your beneficiaries get equal shares?
As long as we – and our loved ones – are of sound health and mind, questions like these feel abstract. We know that we’ll have to address them eventually, but it’s easy to tell ourselves that we have time to tackle them later. Absent some kind of trigger (for example, a death in the family), most people find it too difficult to engage with estate planning. The thing is, we rarely know when our estate plan will become urgent. And all too often, “later” comes too late.
Our work as financial advisors can put us early in the conversation with clients and their attorney, helping articulate our clients’ vision for their financial assets and translating it into a clear, functional legal document. Something that reflects who you are and what you care about, but also gives your heirs and successors instructions that are easy to execute. Grief can distort even straightforward tasks into something monumentally challenging, and good legal and financial documents can simplify the process.
We are all feeling a little more vulnerable than we did just a few months ago, with uncertainty about how we will handle unexpected health issues. Sheltering-in-place has offered up an opportunity, though, with a gift of time to make sure your estate plan fits your life today. Your thinking may include some considerations you didn’t have the last time around, and may warrant talking with your family concerning certain elements.
For example, hospital, hospice, and funeral care look dramatically different now. When your care needs require shifting away from your home, family may not be able to visit in the same ways they were before. If you have recently returned home from the hospital, you may need to be mostly separated. And after you are gone, the funeral or memorial service may need to be delayed or curtailed. These things are worth discussing with your spouse, your adult children, and anyone else close to you that is likely to be in the mix making decisions with you or in your stead. Particularly if you are already in fragile health, this could be an occasion for some intimate time with them you might otherwise put off “until things are normal again.” But we don’t know when that will be.
Life evolves as we live it, and the ebb and flow of coronavirus distancing rules will make some elements of your planning more complex. In our work, we find that most people have unexpected developments in their lives or the lives of their family every couple years, so it makes sense to revisit a summary of your estate plan just as often. And when you re-read your documents, if you find that changes are needed, we encourage you to take the plunge! There’s no time like the present.
When you begin to set up or revise your estate documents, keep two things in mind. First, it’s more important to have a plan than to have the perfect plan. Second, the better you understand what you want to have happen, the better your estate plan will be. Ultimately, it is about making sure your loved ones have guidance during what is likely to be one of the most stressful times of their lives, and the peace of mind that you’ve provided that.
This commentary on this website reflects the personal opinions, viewpoints, and analyses of the North Berkeley Wealth Management (“North Berkeley”) employees providing such comments, and should not be regarded as a description of advisory services provided by North Berkeley or performance returns of any North Berkeley client. The views reflected in the commentary are subject to change at any time without notice. Nothing on this website constitutes investment advice, performance data, or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction, or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. North Berkeley manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed in the commentary. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.