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Face it, not fear it

One of the top reasons we procrastinate on a project is because we feel overwhelmed. We don’t know where to start, so we don’t start at all. Or, the end goal seems unreachable, and we don’t know which path to take to get there, so we avoid it altogether. I am guilty of this myself, and I see it every day in my estate planning practice. I don’t know how many times I have sat across the table from clients who start the meeting by saying, “We’ve been meaning to set up this meeting for 10 years.”

Unfortunately, I have also been across the table from many families after the death of a loved one who are now facing an estate administration disaster, and have heard them lament, “He talked about getting this in order for 10 years.” And, for some families, the tax planning and legacy opportunities are completely gone.

Estate planning, in particular, can be a difficult topic to address, which often causes people to procrastinate putting a plan in place. It requires one to think of a time when he or she will no longer be here. Some people feel that somehow if they plan for something (i.e., their death), it feels too much like it will happen. The reality is, we are all going to leave this earth someday, and not because the plan is complete, but because death is a part of life. And when there is no solid estate plan in place, the consequences to the family are far more devastating.

Procrastination with estate planning can also happen when people get “stuck” on how to be fair to their heirs (e.g., trying to keep a farm viable for a farming child, while providing for non-farming kids as well). They may have an idea of what they want (fairness and continued operation), but aren’t sure how to achieve these goals, so they do nothing and hope the family can work it out in the end. Remember my mantra: “Hope is not a plan.”

The main concern with procrastinating on an estate plan is that no one ever knows when the deadline will be. The first, and most important, step in the solution is to find a qualified estate planning attorney — one who recognizes that everyone has unique goals and circumstances, but who has the specific expertise to create a customized plan to address those goals and circumstances.

Particularly in the realm of agricultural estate planning, it is important to find a professional who understands the unique issues that an ag business presents, and who has the necessary experience to guide you through the process. Ag planning is not one-size-fits-all, and relying on the children to “work it out” puts their relationships with one another at risk, and is typically not an effective solution.

Countless times, I have witnessed the visible sense of relief and peace of mind that clients experience after they have executed their estate planning documents and know that their estate planning affairs are in order. If you haven’t yet taken that step, don’t procrastinate any longer.

Make an appointment today to meet with a qualified estate planning attorney. Just taking the first step of making the appointment will give you a sense of accomplishment. You are on the way to experiencing the peace of mind that bringing clarity to your loved ones provides.

Thompson is a estate and business planning attorney in Sioux Falls, S.D. Contact her at 605-362-9100, or go to www.cathompsonlaw.com.

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This article published in the November, 2012 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.