Women's Circle Roundup: Thoughts About Estate Planning Safety Nets

Another successful Women’s Circle series rounded out our September.


Over lunch, we discussed the top estate planning documents, also known as “docs that are underestimated until they are actually needed.”  We are proud of our participants, about the actions they planned to take after the discussion, and of what they taught us about interpreting the process of estate planning, and of financial planning for women in general.

Five safety nets that are not insurance:

  1. Will
  2. Trust
  3. Power of Attorney for Financial Matters
  4. Advanced Health Care Directive
  5. Master Document to Guide Your Survivors 

Do you need these? Not if you are okay with the plan that the state of California has for you. You also don’t need them if you are alive with full physical capabilities and the mental capacity needed in order to make financial and health care decisions for yourself—and if you know you will always stay that way forever.

If you have an estate plan, you are able to tell others how you want to be taken care of and how your financial matters should be taken care of, should you become incapacitated permanently or temporarily. This is what we mean by "estate planning safety nets." You can indicate what happens to your assets and your minor children or pets when you die.

One motivating reason to get these in place? Avoiding a lengthy and costly probate

Probate is a legal process that proves in court that a deceased person’s Will is valid. It also identifies and inventories the assets and debts of the deceased. If you have minor children, it confirms guardians. Probate court, whether you have a Will or not, can be expensive, lengthy, and public. Having these documents in place can help streamline the process.

If you don’t have a Will, a judge will appoint someone to handle your assets, and they will be distributed to your relatives according to intestate succession. If you have minor children, the court will determine who is to take care of them. As you can imagine, what the courts decide might not be what you want to have happen.

One Circle participant noted that you don’t want your big learning moment to be when there is an emergency – what if you’re blocked from receiving information about your son’s condition while he is lying in a hospital 6 hours away because he’s over 18 and doesn’t have a health care directive in place?  How can you avoid having to deal with bickering family members who are distraught over losing a loved one and possessive over who gets what property? What if you don’t want your art collection to go to your third cousin in Des Moines, because they’ll just turn around and sell it on eBay, and you’d rather donate it to a museum? 

The Circle discussed the finer points of planning an estate, such as portability, and how hiring a private fiduciary might be a blessing in disguise. We explored international planning issues, and we found out that it’s worth considering giving to a charity through an IRA or through insurance instead of through a trust. We also spent a few minutes discussing our virtual self that has become so common and the many online entities that we have—including usernames and passwords, especially email, but also social media and banking portals and the like. The Circle agreed that accessibility to online entities will be important for loved ones after you die, and discussed how useful including login information in your master document could be. Do you want your Facebook page to linger ad infinitum? What if your dormant email account gets hacked – do you really want your email address spoofing loved ones after you’ve passed on?

A big aspect of financial planning is determining your goals and quantifying them against your needs. This is all too true for estate planning, as well. What do you have? What do you want? What do you need? What about parents and adult children—do you know what their wishes are and where their documents are located?


Helpful Circle takeaways:
  • Having flexible language in your trust allows for choice, versus mandating your wishes.
  • Flowcharting your trust documents can be helpful for those of us who are visual thinkers – google “free flowchart template” and take your pick.
  • Create an AHCD card for your wallet – physically keep it on your person.
  • If you’ve been dragging your feet with regards to estate planning: pick those feet up. Get something in place that you can agree to now. You can always amend it as you refine your desires and time allows. Having something in place is better than having nothing at all.

Once more, the Women’s Circle taught us new insights and reminded us of smart ways to honor our loved ones and ourselves.

Our next lunchtime Circle series is in November, and we’ll be discussing giving – and receiving – with grace. Join us for a relaxed lunch and discussion away from the holiday rush and pressures, and invest in yourself at the same time. RSVP for the San Francisco Circle on November 9, or the East Bay Circle on November 30 now.


Topics: Estate Planning, Women's Circles