I was working through my e-mail this morning, meeting with new clients and returning calls. I observed a trend I’ve never seen before … the bulk of my inbox and new clients this week are teachers or otherwise employed in education. Wow.
The reality being, that we are all waiting on what the fall and “back to school” will look like this year. In good humor, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised — very few professions are known for their planning ahead like teachers! My clients in education keep circling back to “we don’t know what the future holds and we just want this done now so we don’t have to worry about it.”
Fair enough. I am a big fan of the theory that if you bring an umbrella, it won’t rain.
As a former teacher myself, I enjoy the chance to talk shop and connect with my educator clients – but this season feels a little different, it isn’t business as usual. The anxiety is palpable and I know many teachers and others in education are feeling a million mixed emotions about the possibility of being back in the building and classroom. I want to take a moment to connect with those in education to talk estate planning.
Here is a quick rundown of estate planning common questions that I field at the WEA Retirement Preparation seminars and lately:
1. Look for an Estate Planning Attorney that you trust and will feel comfortable sharing and engaging with. The planning process can be (but isn’t always) emotional. It can feel like you are airing your dirty laundry (but not always). It can bring up conflict between you and your spouse. Working with someone who you are at ease with can make the process feel seamless, logical, and organized – while balancing the emotional elements as well. Don’t be afraid to connect with more than one attorney and then deciding who you feel most at ease with asking questions, sharing, and relying on. [Pandemic Note: Look for a firm offering Zoom conferences and who have instituted protocols for signings the documents with respect to COVID-19.]
2. Many firms will do the Estate Planning in a package, where you will have the Top 5 most important documents prepared – and often this is done on a flat fee so you know what to expect. Most folks need a Will (possibly with provisions for a guardian for little ones and a Children’s trust to protect the assets in the event both parents pass in two parent family or if the parent passes in a single parent family); Durable Power of Attorney for Medical and Financial purposes, Health Care Directive, Community Property Agreement (if appropriate), and Disposition of Remains. Please note – It is perfectly o.k. if you don’t know what these things are, your lawyer should help provide an overview and ensure that you know what the various documents are and do. [Pandemic Note: A Medical DPOA would be critical if you are unable to make your own medical decisions.]
3. Allow 4-6 weeks for the process (depending on the lawyer). Depending on the firm, the process may take anywhere from a couple to several weeks. If you want this “off your list” before you are back to planning and prepping, you may want to start the process sooner rather than later. [Pandemic Note: Let your attorney know you are wanting this done before September.]
4. An online solution DIY is not advised. I love the saying, “let experts do what experts do.” Meaning that a DIY process is not prepared by someone who knows you, who isn’t necessarily licensed in Washington, they are not there to ensure the execution is proper (and thus the documents may fail for improper execution). Just like how you learn a lot by watching your students as you teach – constantly monitoring nonverbal indicators and assessing for understanding, working with a skilled estate planning means they are going to have the advantage of seeing and hearing from you and ensuring the plan is not a one-size-fits-all form from a box. Also, check out the disclaimer page on those sites. [Pandemic Note: Please leave the DIY projects to fun things that involve craft supplies and trips the hardware store … in a mask of course].
… and my biggest one:
5. You don’t need to have it “all figured out” before you meet with your lawyer. Teachers tend to be PLANNERS. They want to have a plan, to have an overview of the process and a working concept of what their plan will be. I often hear folks say that they have been thinking about their plan and trying to figure it all out in their head before calling an attorney. Here is the thing – when you work with a skilled estate planner who you are comfortable talking with, and who listens, they will help guide you to identify solutions that perhaps you haven’t thought of. Estate Planning is a process of identifying values and priorities, and a skilled attorney will be able to identify and process your values and priorities through the course of the conversation and with that in hand be able to help you devise a plan that is unique to you, your family and your values. I see clients who have toiled over trying to figure out the perfect plan before calling and they will often times create overcomplicated possible solutions just because they may be unaware of more direct pathways and the laws that govern it all. [Pandemic Note: It’s a stressful time. Work with someone who can help bring planning into focus.]