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It Pays to Plan

These past few weeks I received several calls from people dealing with probate issues. Probate is the technical term for the legal process that happens when a person passes away. It involves the court going through the deceased person's estate, paying their debts, and passing their things on to the next generation.

Too many people don't have a plan for the end of their life. That lack of planning makes things difficult for their loved ones because those same loved ones then find themselves trying to navigate the probate process. Grieving is hard enough, but it is even harder when you have to administer an estate (or, worse, when you have to fight your loved ones about administering an estate).

But what can a person do to prevent probate? Having a good estate plan helps. An estate plan doesn't necessarily make a person "probate proof" (and that is okay, probate isn't a bad thing to be feared and avoided at all costs), but it can make the probate process much simpler and much less painful to go through.

Let's take a moment and be honest with each other: everybody passes away eventually. So, if we know it is going to happen someday, why not prepare for it and make it that much easier on our loved ones? There are probably a lot of reasons: it takes time, it takes money, and "I don't really have anything anyway, so what is the point?" I want to tackle each of those excuses in turn.

First, time. It really doesn't take that long to make the most basic estate planning documents: a Will, a Financial Power of Attorney, a Healthcare Power of Attorney, and a Living Will. When I made AZ 3D Law I committed myself to using technology to simplify the process a lot. Our questionnaire can be completed on a computer or on a cell phone. Someone who wants to make those estate planning documents could do it, a few minutes at a time over the course of a few days, until the questionnaire was complete. We can also use technology to meet if we need to (via Skype or a similar service). We can even use technology to shuttle documents back and forth for clients to review. Not only that, but we make house calls and work weekends when we need to. Between the technology we can use and our flexible schedule, time isn't an issue anymore.

Well, what about cost? AZ 3D Law also has an answer to that. We priced our basic estate planning services (Will, both Powers of Attorney, and the Living Will) at $150 for a single person or $250 for a married couple (assuming there are no conflicts to prevent a dual representation). We are able to price our service that low because we are a charity, and we are not trying to make a profit. You probably won't find anything much lower than that, except "do it yourself" programs, and you are probably better off paying an attorney and getting actual legal advice instead of trying your best to puzzle your way through the forms. So, thanks to our charitable mission, cost is no longer an issue either.

Fine, but what about your stuff? If you don't have much stuff, who cares, right? Estate plans are just for rich people who own a lot of stuff! Not true - not even a little bit. An estate plan can do a lot of things for someone who doesn't own that much. It can speed your loved ones through the process of succession by affidavit. It can appoint a guardian for your children. It can make sure you don't have to track down distant relatives and go through a complex intestacy process. It can make sure your wishes are respected if you find yourself seriously injured (but do not pass away). It can help you manage your affairs if you find yourself mentally "slipping" before you pass away. It can help you pass your legacy on to people who otherwise might not receive anything under the intestacy statutes. It can do all of these things and more, all of which are equally appealing to a person with $500 and a person with $500,000. So, a lack of stuff isn't really an issue either because "dealing with your stuff" is just one of the many things an estate plan does.

So there you have it: time, money, and a lack of stuff are excuses, but they aren't good excuses. Estate plans are helpful to everyone (and, the more complicated your situation is, the more helpful they are). You owe it to yourself - and your loved ones - to give estate planning some serious consideration. If you decide to call us, we'll be happy to tell you how we can help!

David Mercer