The industry surrounding estate planning focuses on documents and our society, when it thinks of legacy, focuses on wealth. But estate planning is more than a document and legacy, more than money.
People with wills can have assets transfer in ways they didn’t plan and people who have trusts can leave assets that require a probate proceeding. Those are two facts that shock most people. Having the right documents that do what you want them to is incredibly important. But it’s not the only thing.
Financial organization is just as important.
Knowing what you have, how you own it, where it goes when you die, and how it will get there is the fundamental first step in understanding the to-do list you’ll leave. Once you understand that, you can do things now to make that to-do list easier on the ones who will be grieving you. That’s all that estate planning is anyway.
Even more important, wrapping your head around the fact that you will not get forever, changes your mindset. You live your life, day in and day out, knowing that the things you do now will be what you’ll be remembered for. You don’t squander the time. You create legacies that are far more important than what assets you leave.
I started An Organized (after)Life to change how people think about estate planning and legacy. To help you do the organization necessary to reduce the to-do list you’ll leave for the people who will grieve you and to help you understand that your legacy is what you’re making it everyday.
I’m Jen Gumbel. I’m an estate planning and probate attorney in Minnesota. When I grew up, being a lawyer was never on my radar. I wanted to teach. Being a teacher was and is my gift. As I went through college, I quickly learned that I didn’t have the high energy to keep up with little kids or get young adults interested in something. I wanted people to come already fired-up.
That’s how I discovered the law. After shadowing a small-town attorney in my hometown of Brandon, South Dakota, I knew the law was for me. People came in invested in knowing the answer. And I really dug “death law”, probate law and estate planning. It’s all about educating people and minimizing legal issues.
I was also specifically prepared for it in a way most lawyers aren’t.
My father suddenly died from an aggressive cancer when I was fourteen. People, lawyers included, are weird about death and can be unsure how to approach the issue. I don’t and I’m not. Young parents planning for a worst case scenario, people who just got a diagnosis, the elderly coming to grips that more life is behind than ahead, I can wrap my head around that. Helping people walk through legal issues or reducing the legal to-do list they’ll leave for their loved ones is my super power.
Not only do I do this in my day job, I blog and podcast about it. I share the tools and information that all of us in “death law” wish every client knew coming in and I show people when and why working with an attorney is important. It’s my way of swiping at death.
As a society we might have come leaps and bounds in knowing how to frankly discuss things like money and sex, but haven’t made much ground in overcoming awkwardness dealing with death and understanding real legacy. That awkwardness actually does a disservice to the ones we love, because if we don’t deal with our own mortality, we force our loved ones to deal with it for us and we squander the time we’re given. Organizing those affairs and understanding that we’re making legacy now isn’t being morbid, it’s just good sense.