Holiday Resolutions: Five Ways to Kick-Start Your Estate Planning in the New Year

6 min read

“What the New Year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the New Year.” – Vern McLellan

People have been making New Year’s resolutions with varying degrees of success ever since ancient Babylonians began observing the religious festival known as Akitu nearly 4,000 years ago. Whether it’s in January, March, or September, nearly every culture from dynastic China through modern civilizations has a tradition of resetting intentions while resetting the calendar.

This year, make working on estate planning documents part of your resolutions.

It might sound a little crazy to plan for your passing when most resolutions focus on improving your physical, emotional, and financial health, but it’s not. Many clients are surprised to learn that a comprehensive estate plan can improve your life across all three areas in one fell swoop.

Because resolutions aren’t easy to keep, any goal that can multitask is a win in our book. Here are five suggestions to kick-start your estate plan in the New Year.

  1. Make estate planning a priority

Estate planning attorneys have heard every reason in the book for procrastinating on end-of-life planning. Here are the most common excuses we hear (and why you shouldn’t fall for them).

  • “I’m young and healthy, so I don’t need to worry about it yet.”  

             Accidents or catastrophic illnesses can happen to anyone at any time.

  • “I don’t have many assets to worry about anyway.” 

You don’t have to be wealthy to need an estate plan. Bank accounts, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, houses, and cars are all assets that will need to be distributed for your estate to be closed.

  • “It’s too depressing and stressful to think about dying.” 

It will be much harder for your loved ones to manage it after your injury/death than it will be for you to do it now.

  • “All that legal stuff is so confusing. I don’t even know where to start.” 

Estate planning can be confusing, but that’s why there are knowledgeable professionals available to help you. You don’t have to do it alone.

  • “I can’t afford to pay for a will right now.”

It often costs your loved ones more to get your estate through probate if you die intestate
(without a will) than it costs you to draft one.

  • “My family members will take care of the kids.”

If you die without a will, it’s the court, not you, who will decide who receives custody of your minor children or pets. This could be bad news if there are people you don’t want to be their guardian.

  • “Everyone knows how I feel about life support/organ donation already.”

Even if you’re a registered organ donor, your loved ones may not know how you feel about important medical decisions like resuscitation, pain management, long-term life support, etc. If they don’t know your preferences, they’ll go with their own.

As uncomfortable as it can be to think about the end of your life, having an estate plan is the best and most responsible way to give yourself and your loved ones the gift of peace of mind in the face of tremendous difficulty.

  1. Plan for your potential incapacity

It’s one thing to assume your friends and family know how you’d want your end-of-life care managed, but it’s quite another for them to face the reality of making such consequential decisions without clear direction from you.

Studies show that only 32% of Americans have a will, and 34% of those aged 35–54 have never discussed estate planning with anyone.

It doesn’t have to be that way. An estate plan can do more than just list your estate’s beneficiary designations. A good plan may also include:

  • Durable power of attorney, which gives a trusted individual the authority to manage your financial affairs should you be rendered unable to manage on your own.
  • Medical power of attorney, which gives a trusted individual the authority to make healthcare decisions if you are incapacitated.
  • Advanced medical directive, also known as a living will, which outlines your preferences for life-saving interventions and medical care in the event of a permanent vegetative state or otherwise terminal diagnosis.

Use estate planning as an opportunity to preemptively reduce the mental and emotional burden your loved ones and medical team will face if you can’t make decisions for yourself.

  1. Cover all your bases

    Image by Matthias Zomer from

When creating an estate plan, do your best to plan for as much as possible. Make sure you’ve accounted for all your assets, made guardianship arrangements for minor children and pets, updated all beneficiary designations, and named an executor (and a trustee if you have a trust). 

This is where having a knowledgeable estate planning lawyer saves you time, money, and stress.

You also need to make sure the important people in your life know you’ve made them. Don’t let your executor be among the 54% of executors who didn’t know they were responsible for executing a will until they were notified by an attorney after a loved one died. Likewise, ensure your children aren’t part of the 52% of beneficiaries who don’t know where their parents’ estate planning documents are stored.

Working collaboratively with your attorney, accountant, medical team, and beneficiaries is the best way to ensure your wishes are honored.

  1. Don’t set it and forget it

An estate plan should be considered a living legal document that changes alongside your circumstances. Marriages, divorces, births, deaths, business successes or failures, changes to estate law, and a host of other factors can change the effectiveness of your will or trust. 

It’s smart to add a review of your estate plan to your list of New Year’s resolutions every year to ensure it’s always in line with your wishes.

  1. Dedicate it to someone you love

We all know that New Year’s resolutions often fail. Don’t let it happen to you—think about what motivates you, whether it’s writing your goals down, breaking them down into steps, setting a due date, or having an accountability buddy. 

Lots of folks need external accountability to tackle a project. Consider dedicating the task of creating your estate plan to a loved one, such as your mom, spouse, or new baby. Make it a “gift” to that person, and you may feel more compelled to get it done. You’ll also be able to celebrate with them once it’s achieved.

Find your estate planning ally

Rather than avoid a potentially uncomfortable discussion, use the start of the new year to take control of your legacy. Get help with your estate planning. Your future self, as well as your family and friends, will thank you.

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