Are We There Yet?

Everyone who has taken a trip with small children has heard the above question. The correct response is not, “No, it’s 600 miles before we reach the national park; it will take us twelve more hours; now please be quiet.” Instead, the wise parent breaks the trip into intermediate goals spaced no more than an hour or two apart.

Mountain climbers motivate themselves by playing the same mind games. For example, the ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which normally takes five to six days and requires many miles of trekking and an elevation gain of over 13,000 feet, is broken into five segments: three successively higher camps at about 9,000, 12,500, and 15,000 feet; Gilman’s Point on the lower side of the crater; and Uhuru Peak at the very summit. Climbers divide these segments into much shorter goals, each attainable in less than an hour. At high elevations on major peaks, goals become even shorter: reaching the next outcropping of rock or just fifty more steps.

Any major task in life—earning a college degree, establishing a business, or writing a book—is daunting when looked at in its totality but manageable when broken into its parts. When the task as a whole seems overwhelming, sometimes people procrastinate approaching it. That is often true of estate planning. Considering all of the work entailed in assembling documents, listing assets, deciding on legacies, choosing trustees and administrators, and selecting professional advisors, the temptation is, like Scarlett O’Hara, to say, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

One way to approach the task is to imagine estate planning as a driving trip across the country and to associate each task with a certain segment, progressing from New York to Pittsburgh to St. Louis to Kansas City to Denver to Salt Lake City to San Francisco. A certain minister, who never used notes when delivering a sermon, said that he imagined himself strolling from one room to another in the church, and each room reminded him of a point he wanted to make. The driving trip can serve as a similar mnemonic device, and each segment can be associated with certain tasks such as the following:

New York to Pittsburgh—Take an inventory of existing documents.

Pittsburgh to St. Louis—List all assets and how they are owned.

St. Louis to Kansas City—Decide on the legacies you would like to leave to individuals and charities.

Kansas City to Denver—Consider the individuals or institutions to whom to entrust management of your affairs.

Denver to Salt Lake City—Select an attorney and other advisors if you have not already done so.

Salt Lake City to San Francisco—Meet with your attorney and have all necessary documents drafted. Then execute them.

Updating your estate plan is a manageable task when approached in this manner, and it will give you peace of mind. Although you will develop your overall estate plan in consultation with your attorney, we can help you with reference to your charitable legacy planning. Specifically, we can provide some attractive gift planning options to discuss with your legal and financial advisors. Call us today.

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