Planning your estate plan is a lot like gardening.
We recently shared a post on social media with a picture of our backyard vegetable garden. As I was reflecting on how great the garden looks this year, I started to think about all the planning and work that went into it. I also thought about how much less expensive it might be to just buy our vegetables at the store. Not only from a financial standpoint, but also the time and work that goes into making the garden flourish.
Yet, the expense isn’t the point. Rather, it is the satisfaction of building and growing something. It is the peace of mind that comes from knowing exactly what went into the soil and thereby our produce. It is the family time, teamwork, and excitement as we watch our children indulge in the fresh tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, and more.
I recently read an article at Better Homes & Gardens (“BHG”), that discussed the steps to making a “magnificent garden.” It struck me as I was reading through the article that perhaps the joy I find in helping clients plan their estates, stems from the same place that causes me so much peace in gardening. Here are the top five ways estate planning is like gardening.
Considering Your Options
In the BHG article, the options consisted of vegetable, herb, or flower gardens. When you are planning your estate plan, the options consist of things like Last Wills and Testaments, Revocable Living Trusts, and Powers of Attorney (amongst many others). The decisions come down to figuring out what your goals are. Do you want to slice a cucumber, freshen up your dishes, or to see beautiful colors. Likewise, are you looking to protect assets, provide for your minor children, avoid probate, or something else?
Picking an Attorney
When you’re planning your garden, you want to make sure you find a spot in the yard that captures enough sunlight and perhaps cuts down on the wind. The same could be said of picking an attorney to help you plan your estate plan.
Your estate planning attorney should be someone that you trust and like. After all, this person should become part of your family’s team and help guide you for many years. We recommend asking for recommendations from your other trusted professionals (like your financial advisor or CPA) or from family and friends. Then, do a little homework. The State Bar Association usually has information regarding attorney misconduct and/or complaints, and informal reviews found on Google, Facebook, and other places can be a great resource.
Working the Soil
Clearing, improving, and working the soil is necessary for a healthy garden. Similarly, along with your estate planning attorney, you are going to need to do some heavy lifting when it comes to planning your estate plan. Well, at least mentally.
Who will take care of your children? Who will handle the finances? How will you title assets and property? Are just some of the questions you’ll need to discuss with your attorney. Don’t stress too much though, a seasoned estate planner will help you dig through all of them.
Planting and Watering
Once the soil is clear, properly nurtured, and worked thoroughly, it is time to plant and water your seedlings. The same thing happens with your estate planning documents. After your attorney drafts your documents, there will be a few things you will likely still need to work on to make sure your estate plan is in order.
First, you’ll need to sign all of your documents. Then, you may need to update some of your beneficiary designations, add some transfer on death designations, and file some paperwork. These steps are vital in making sure your estate plan achieves your goals.
Protecting Your Investment
You protect your garden by adding mulch, picking weeds, and pruning the plants. Similarly, planning your estate plan doesn’t end once you’ve signed the documents. We recommend our clients review their documents and assets on a yearly basis. This helps them ensure their plan is up to date, but also to keep ahead of changing circumstances in life.
While we would love to see our client’s every year, we know it may be several years before we see them again. At a minimum, we recommend sitting down with your estate planning team every three to five years. As you age, it may be very important to meet with your attorney every year. Life happens and your attorney is your resource for making sure those changes don’t disrupt your ultimate plan and goals.
In building the garden, or estate plan, of your dreams, you’ll have to make decisions, put in some hard work, nurture it, and protect it. The good news is that for both, there are many resources to help you along the way. The Welch Tribe takes great pride in our garden, especially as we harvest the vegetables and enjoy them with our friends and family. Welch Law is proud to help our clients and friends plan their estates and nurture them throughout the years.