Compliments of Our Law Firm,
Written By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
“How likely is that to happen?” You have undoubtedly heard these words spoken many times. You have possibly said them yourself when a well-meaning friend or family member tries to warn you about a risk that you perceive as unworthy of consideration. You may have even used this same logic to explain why you have yet to create a comprehensive estate plan. After all, what are the odds you will die or become incapacitated anytime soon? However, there is an important flaw in that train of thought. The odds of incapacity or death are likely higher than you realize. Even favorable odds do not guarantee that you will beat the odds.
Did you know that even if you were in your 20s right now, you stand a one in four chance of becoming disabled before you retire? Moreover, if you do become disabled you stand about a 38 percent chance of that disability lasting more than five years. Currently, about half of the nation’s 37 million disabled adults are in their working years (18-64).
If you suddenly were to become disabled, would you be prepared? Would your wishes be honored? What about death? If you died tomorrow, would your affairs be in order or would you leave behind a disorganized, confusing mess for your loved ones to straighten out? If you have yet to take the time to create your estate plan — a plan that should include an incapacity planning component — the answers to most of these questions is a resounding “no.” If you have put off creating an estate plan because you believe the odds of something happening to you are slim, you should reconsider.
While there is no way to know when or how you will meet your end, you may be surprised at the odds of some causes of death:
|Cause of Death||Lifetime Odds|
|Motor Vehicle Accident||1-in-100|
|Intentional Self-harm (Suicide)||1-in-121|
|Assault by Firearm||1-in-325|
|Fire or Smoke||1-in-1,116|
|Natural Forces (combined)||1-in-3,357|
Regardless of whether you ultimately succumb to something as common as heart disease or as rare as an asteroid impact, the end result is the same. The question you must ask yourself is: “What happens after that?” Without an estate plan in place, your state’s intestate succession laws will control the fate of your estate assets. Only a spouse and/or close blood relatives are likely to inherit under those laws. Promises you made to other friends, family members, and loved ones will not be honored. Speaking of loved ones, an estate plan allows you to name a guardian for your minor children. Without a Last Will and Testament, a court may be forced to appoint a guardian without any guidance from you.
What happens if you become incapacitated? You might associate the concept of incapacity with old age dementia illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease. While Alzheimer’s certainly leads to incapacitation, it is hardly the only cause. A severe illness, tragic motor vehicle accident, or catastrophic workplace injury could cause you to become incapacitated at any time in your life. Who would control your assets and pay your bills for you during a period of incapacity? Who would make personal and healthcare decisions for you? Without an incapacity plan in your overall estate plan, a court likely would decide who would control your assets and who would make decisions on your behalf. Furthermore, your loved ones might become embroiled in a divisive court battle that could be financially and emotionally draining for everyone involved.
Do you want the state to decide what happens to your estate assets? Can you trust a judge to appoint the right guardian for your child without guidance from you? Additionally, do you want your loved ones fighting over the right to make decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself? If the answer to these questions is “no,” “no,” and “no,” you need a comprehensive estate plan in place to ensure that your wishes will be honored in the event of your death or incapacity. Take the time now to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. Creating your comprehensive estate plan is the best gift you can give to yourself and your loved ones.