By Michael Dolan
What can we learn about estate planning from weeds? It may seem odd, but I learned a lot as a young man by pulling weeds. My father had an interesting way of punishing his three sons. When we landed in trouble, in addition to our other chores, he would send us out on the property with directions to pull a certain number of various types of weeds. You had to pile the weeds in piles of 10 for easy tabulation, and if the pulled weed did not have most of its root, it did not count. The number of weeds assigned usually corresponded to the severity of the offense. Needless to say, with three mischievous boys, there were not a lot of weeds on our property. So, what did I learn?
1. I learned that if you make good decisions early, you don’t have to face bad consequences. It’s not that different in estate planning. If you plan ahead by putting a well-designed system in place to deal with matters upon your disability and/or death, you and your family don’t have to face the significant and expensive consequences of failing to plan. Paying excess taxes, navigating probate, or having significant delays and legal complications sound a whole lot worse than hunting down and pulling 200 leafy spurge plants.
2. I learned that taking one more step forward always gets you closer to success. Even though the project often seemed insurmountable to a young man standing in the hot sun, pulling that next weed got me closer to getting it done. To have an effective estate plan, you need to take all the necessary steps. Having a will or trust is a start, but it doesn’t mean you have an estate plan. It simply means you have an unimplemented set of instructions that usually have little to do with your objectives for your family. If you want a plan that works, you need to do more than just buy some documents. Learn what steps are needed to have a successful plan, and then take them. You never know when a big patch of Canada thistle may be just over the next rise.
3. I learned that stopping before the job is done can have adverse consequences. If I wandered off to do anything — even my chores — before the assigned number of weeds had been collected, the punishment was swift and uncomfortable. When you estate-plan, you need to complete the entire project. Your estate plan is one of the few things in life that involves everyone you love and everything you own. A couple of hours in the attorney’s office many years ago is a classic example of not getting the project done. You need to work closely enough with the attorney to design the plan to fit your family, undertake a process to update and maintain it as time passes, and make sure it is ready to serve your family well when a disability occurs, or the good Lord calls you home. This is the best way to avoid weeds sprouting on your outdated estate plan.
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, estateplansthatwork.com.