Updated on 11.18.06

Facing My Financial Fears: Estate Planning

Trent Hamm

This week, The Simple Dollar is doing a five part series on financial topics that scare me just a bit. Researching and then writing about them will (hopefully) alleviate some of that fear Other fears include buying a car and Roth IRAs.

Until recently, I’ve not thought about the need to plan for my passing in any real form. With what little I knew, I was pleased with intestacy for determining my assets, which basically meant that my wife gets everything, or in the event of simultaneous passing, my son gets everything, or in the case of a family disaster… well, I really didn’t care – the intestate law in my state was perfectly fine by me.

The first step I made in the direction of estate planning is that I simply drew up a list of specific items that I wanted specific friends and family to have upon my passing. Again, this is no real problem; I trust my wife to distribute these items.

But then I began to wonder what would happen if we both passed, and a whole nightmarish can of worms opened for me.

At first, I was just fine with intestacy, meaning that all of the cash would simply become the property of our son, but then I tried to imagine what would happen if our infant son was left with our full insurance amounts and in the hands of his guardians (the only aspect of our will is the definition of guardians for our son; we make no mention of any assets so intestacy will apply and probate can be avoided) and, as much as I trust them, I wondered what potentially might happen with that money.

I realized that I needed to set up a living trust so that my desires for my assets are clearly followed in the event of my death, but I’ve avoided the process because of the apparent complexities of such an instrument. Successor? Grantor? Trustee? Signing my assets over to the trust? It all made little sense to me and the documentation I’ve found in extensive internet searching isn’t entirely clear, either.

Every time I look at my son, though, it gnaws at me a little more. I’m failing him because of my own ignorance and avoidance of a situation I don’t understand, I keep telling myself. I know that the process is relatively simple and I know that I need to do it, but there’s one thing holding me back.


Writing this has made me step up to the plate. I have set up a brief meeting with our family’s attorney, who will answer my questions for me for a very agreeable fee. I hope to enter the process of setting up a living trust as soon as my questions are answered.

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  1. Ann says:

    Hey Trent,
    Just checking…have you and your wife followed through on estate planning? We have been burdened with completing ours, too. It’s not that fear is keeping us from finishing the project and signing off on it, it’s the fact that we don’t really have many viable options for guardians for our children should something happen to my husband and I. We have lived through his mother’s recent death and her estate was not completed and all of her assets were essentially given to my husband’s stepfather. Her will dated to 1978 and was never updated to reflect her current wishes. A similar incident happened with my husband’s grandmother’s outdated estate planning. Both situations have been exhausting, to say the least, not to mention broken and irreversibly damaged family relationships. Lesson learned: we meet with our attorney to sign on the dotted line in two weeks.

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