SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Composing the 'family love letter'

Maureen Wendt

If you are among the 30 percent of adult Americans who have prepared an estate plan, congratulations. By taking the steps needed to create a plan that is unique to your needs, you are ensuring that your goals for the future will be achieved and the people you wish to benefit will not be forgotten.

If 30 percent of adults have an estate plan, that means 70 percent do not. Why? There are many misconceptions about the purpose of estate planning. Misconceptions include: estate planning is just for the rich, estate planning is just for the old, or estate planning is fundamentally about death and taxes.

Before you start developing your estate plan and focus so much attention on taxes, step back. Reorient your perspective. Fundamentally, estate planning is not about death and taxes. Instead, the most important goal of estate planning should be to provide "A Legacy for the Living."

Some of the principal elements of estate planning are to execute documents that provide for death and/or incapacity and provide information relating to your assets, liabilities and wishes.

Even after spending a lifetime of work to build an estate, many are reluctant to sit down with family and discuss the details of the estate and how it will eventually be distributed. The subject of death can be difficult to bring up, but in the end discussing your estate plan should be a priority if you want to protect your future and ensure your wishes are carried out as you'd like them. It's important to realize that each family's goals are unique and it's a good idea to discuss them now while you can.

Failure to plan can result in confusion and family conflict, dissipation of assets, disposition of property against your wishes and/or payment of excess income and estate taxes that could have been easily avoided.

Estate planning is a loving document to your family that gives them guidelines to carry out your wishes. The loss of a loved one is painful enough without the added complications of an unprepared estate. By preparing today, a family can be ready for the realities of tomorrow. Will you leave chaos? Or, will you leave a well-conceived plan with information to help your family in its confused times?

An educational presentation, "Estate Planning — Family Love Letter" will take place at noon Feb. 21 at The Dale Association, 33 Ontario St, Lockport. The presentation is for informational purposes only and the presenter is John MacDonald, financial consultant, AXA Advisors, and partner, Harbortown Financial Group, LLC

The presentation will include the components of The Family Love Letter — a compilation of all the information your family will need at the time of your death, or if you should become incapacitated due to illness or injury, such as an inventory with contact information/locations of all your financial papers, all your estate papers, and all your personal papers.

Investing and planning are not enough if no one knows about it. Lack of information can add to distress during an already confusing time. Participants in the workshop will receive a workbook that guides users through compiling relevant information so it's all in one safe and easily accessible place. This helps create peace of mind, lessens stress and provides family members with important information when the need arises.

Participant workbooks will include information about compiling information about:

• Advisers and financial information, including attorneys, advisors, brokers, investment strategy and assets, frequent flier miles, credit card information and more.

• Insurance and benefits including all life, health, disability, long term care, Medicare, property, employment and military benefits, and more.

• Documents and other information including will, property list, living will, powers of attorney, trust documents, titles, deeds and more.

• Family history and ethical will, that is, birth certificates, citizenship, military papers, divorce decrees, adoption papers and more.

You will have an opportunity to make a personal statement for the next generation. This sounds like a worthwhile exercise for adults of all ages to go through. I hope you will consider attending the free workshop. Please call 433-1886 to reserve your seat.

Maureen A. Wendt is president and CEO of The Dale Association, a non-profit organization that provides senior, mental health, in-home care, caregiver support services and enrichment activities for adults. For more information, call 433-1937 or visit www.daleassociation.com .