A few months ago, my father unexpectedly passed away. The shock of it still resonates with my family as we struggle to heal from our devastating loss. The days following his death were a whirlwind of planning and preparation, of going through all the necessary and expected motions.
As the days passed and life settled, we discovered my father’s estate planning documents.
Knowing they were there but never having reviewed them, it was an emotional afternoon when we learned in great detail all of the ways my father had planned for an event such as this.
Because of his foresight and organization, my father was able to direct us in carrying out his final wishes and my family was able to move on a little more secure in our lives, suddenly devoid of such an amazingly significant individual.
Life has a tendency to throw us curveballs—little surprises that whiz by at ninety miles per hour while we try to determine if it’s going to go left or right. Marriage, divorce, babies, death, these are the type of life-altering events that change everything in one instant. While sometimes we get the opportunity to plan, we are not always so lucky. Estate planning is more than deciding who gets your set of wedding china or your favorite piece of art. Estate planning allows an individual (or family) to decide exactly how their legacy carries on after their death. More than the commonly thought of will or trust, estate planning includes directions on end-of-life care, medical decisions, financial matters, and even organ donation. It allows the individual to choose who will be in charge of carrying out these wishes if and when time and circumstance call for it. It gives power to a person in knowing that regardless of life’s curveballs, their loved ones will know exactly what needs to be done.
Divorce changes the trajectory of your future and, as such, it’s necessary to plan ahead. Many family law attorneys, me included, have the capability to assist clients in creating a new estate plan when their divorce is finalized. Even if they themselves don’t have this knowledge, your attorney will likely have a referral to an estate-planning lawyer who can help you in this process.
While the last thing you may want is to deal with more legal matters immediately after you finalize your divorce, this is actually the best time to do it. Your attorney has all of your information, including knowledge about your children and assets. Not only will it be much easier to create an estate plan while this is fresh, it will also be better for you to walk away from your case knowing that you have crossed every ‘t’ and dotted every ‘i’. The power you obtain by taking control of your future will allow you to start on your new path without the weight of unfinished business on your shoulders.
No matter what reason you choose to do so, creating an estate plan allows you to take control of your future. It gives you the power to decide exactly how you want your affairs handled without leaving that plan in the hands of another. No matter how close you are with our family, each and every one of us is the master of our own destiny, the creator of our own future. As the opening quotation warns, don’t let yourself fall into someone else’s plan; you may not like the outcome.
This post was originally published in a 2013 issue of West Michigan Woman magazine. You can read more here.