by Richard Keyt, Arizona estate planning & wealth preservation lawyer

I am an Arizona estate planning lawyer. I prepare wills and trusts and related documents for my clients. I want to speak candidly about a subject that most people do not want to think about – death.

Most people have not prepared for their incapacity or death. There are three primary reasons for this:

1. Procrastination: This is probably the biggest reason people do not have a will or a trust. Most people think “I'm not going to die for a long time so I'll deal with estate planning later.” By procrastinating, we are betting our family's financial and emotional well-being on not becoming incapacitated or dying until we get our ducks in a row years from now. It may work, but if you are wrong, your family will be the victims of your procrastination and suffer the financial and emotional consequences.

2. The Unknown: Estate planning is a complicated area that involves a lot of different issues. When we do not understand something, we have a tendency to reject it. One of my goals is to help people learn about Arizona estate planning, which is why I created the Arizona Estate Planning Library on my website.

3. The Cost: A comprehensive estate plan prepared by an experienced Arizona estate planning attorney is not cheap, but not having an estate plan can be much more costly to your family. For example, consider the cost to your family if any of the following happens to you:

A. You become incompetent and lack the capacity to manage your financial affairs. Without a financial power of attorney, your family may have to get a court order appointing somebody as the conservator of your property with the power to sign documents and act on your behalf. The cost to hire an attorney to obtain the court order could be $3,000+.

B. You are unconscious and lack the capacity to make decisions about your medical care. Without a healthcare power of attorney, your family may have to get a court order appointing somebody as your healthcare agent with the power to make medical decisions for you. The cost to hire an attorney to obtain the court order could be $3,000+.

 C. You are in a terminal condition, unconscious and being kept alive by artificial means. Without a living will instructing the doctor to pull the plug, your family may have to get a court order instructing the doctor to pull the plug. The cost to hire an attorney to obtain the court order could be $2,600+ and take several weeks while the doctor and hospital bills continue to sky rocket.

The consequences of scenarios B and C are best illustrated by the sad situation of Terry Schiavo. The story of the legal fight between the comatose Terry's parents on one side and her ex-husband on the other side made national news for months. Terry did not have a healthcare power of attorney that gave somebody the power to make medical decisions for her. Nor did she have a living will that instructed the doctor to pull the plug. Each side spent incredible amounts of money litigating under the bright glare of national publicity, all of which could have been avoided if Terry had adopted these two very important documents while she was able.

D. You Have Minor Children. If you were to die while you have minor children, who will care for your children? If you have a will, you can nominate the person(s) to become the legal guardians of your minor children. Without a will, your family may fight over who should raise the kids and go to court to ask the judge to decide. Do you really want a judge to decide who will raise your children without any input from you? The financial and emotional cost to your family to get the court order could be great.

E. You Die. Without a will or a trust that disposes of your property, the State of Arizona will determine who gets your property rather than you. Too many times people have contacted me with sad stories about their loved ones dying without a will or a trust and the property of the deceased going to the wrong person(s). A common disaster arises when a married person dies with children from a person other than the spouse of the deceased. Arizona law says the community property of the deceased spouse goes 1/2 to the surviving spouse and 1/2 to the children who are not children of the surviving spouse. Ask yourself what surprises about their inheritance or lack thereof will your family experience if you were to die without a will or a trust?

The Cost of Fun Stuff vs. The Cost of an Estate Plan

Many people are reluctant to adopt a comprehensive estate plan because of the cost. If the cost is what is preventing you from adopting a comprehensive estate plan to protect your family, ask yourself, “How much money do I spend on things I do not absolutely need?”  Did you spend $1,000 – $3,000 for a big flat screen TV?  Do you spend $1,000 or more every year for cable or satellite TV service?  Ask yourself how much you spend each year on stuff vs. how much you have spent to protect your family if something happens to you.  Don't you want to protect your family?  If so, then you must adopt an estate plan.

Don't you think that before you spend a lot of money on non-necessities you should first protect your family with a comprehensive estate plan? I know your family comes first, but don't risk your family's future financial health by purchasing stuff before you spend the money to protect your family from your death or disability. Protect your family now before it's too late.

The foundation of every comprehensive estate plan is a revocable living trust that can provide life-time asset protection for your loved ones after your death.  For detailed information about what is contained in my estate plan read “Arizona Estate Plan Contents.”