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If it’s ‘taken care of,’ why is there so much to do?

Tim Hearden Cattle grazing
Cattle graze with a house in the background.
Estate Planning: Providing the proper expectations for your family is critical to success.

Mary had an attorney draft up estate planning documentation.  She placed the documents in her safe deposit box.  When her children came to dinner, she proudly told them that she had met with a lawyer and now her estate was “All taken care of!”

Mary took a critical step toward having an estate plan that would help matters go more smoothly on her disability or death. However she, like many people, led her children to believe that because she had prepared some documentation, upon her death there would be nothing else to do.

Look at it from the perspective of the children.  They took their mom at her word, that it is “All taken care of”, and unfortunately assumed that there is nothing to do upon her death.  This is a critical mistake many families make.  It is particularly easy to understand her children coming to this conclusion as they likely have not had any experience dealing with a person's affairs upon their disability or death.

The reality is that there is a lot to do when a person dies.  There are no magic documents that miraculously take care of things.  Someone has to do something at the time of your death, and it is usually family members. The same issues apply upon a person's disability.

Related: Estate planning: ‘Hugs will come later’

Most family members don’t know what to do, how to do it, or understand how they should pay for the assistance they need. There is a 100% chance you’re going to die. And, there is a 100% chance that someone will need to do something after your death. If things are going to go smoothly and effectively after your death, you must take steps to prepare your family. Prepare them to know what to do, how to do it, and how to pay for it. 

Preparation becomes increasingly important for farm and ranch families who are using complex tax and asset protection strategies in their estate plans. Preparation and understanding of these structures can be a critical part of realizing the maximum benefit of the estate planning.  Designing the strategies is one thing, understanding the benefit of carrying them out is another. Otherwise the family may attempt to take shortcuts that diminish, or negate, the benefit of the planning

Remember, estate planning is a process of preparation prior to your death.  It is not preparing certain types of documents. By taking the time to prepare, you can assure that the process will go more smoothly for your family, and that they will realize the maximum benefit of your preparation.

Dolan, an attorney, helps farm and ranch families achieve comprehensive estate, succession and legacy planning objectives.  Dolan is the principal of Dolan & Associates, P.C. in Brighton and Westminster, Colo.  Learn more on his website:

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