Many estate planning lawyers go into that field after experiencing personal tragedies in their family. One such lawyer is Stephanie Large, a Personal Family Lawyer in St. George, Utah. Her story illustrates why estate planning is critical, even if you don’t have children.
“Uncle Cam loved Ohio State, and he was so excited to get tickets to the first college football playoff game for Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl on January 1, 2015.
Our whole family had gone to Florida for Christmas, so I was there to see him actually get the tickets. He and his wife Alicia and their two dogs left early on December 31, 2014 to drive from Florida to New Orleans, Louisiana. They didn’t make it very far.
About two hours after they started driving, they were in a car accident near Orlando, Florida and were killed instantly.
In addition to the emotional shock of suddenly losing family members, everything was made more painful once our family realized we could not find a will or any estate plan. Cam and Alicia didn’t have any children, and in one sense that made things a little bit easier in that we didn’t have the potential of each side of the family fight over who would raise the kids. However, this made the property division that much harder, as we had to determine what was Cam’s, what was Alicia’s, and what needed to be split. (If they had had children, the kids would have inherited everything.)
In addition to having unequal retirement accounts, some of their real estate was owned jointly, and some owned by only Cam. This caused hard feelings between the two sides of the family, as one family would inherit more than the other.
Because they owned real estate in several different states, probate cases had to be opened in several states. (Probate is the court process to transfer property after someone’s death.) This process took nearly two years and costs nearly a third of the estate in attorney’s fees.
My uncle’s coworkers knew that Cam had attended a presentation by an estate planning attorney and said afterward that he needed to do some planning. And one of my uncle’s friends claimed that he had once seen a disc that was supposed to be given to my grandfather if something were to happen to Cam. We never found such a disc. We wonder if Cam tried to do his estate plan himself and the disc was misplaced or lost or even intentionally hidden. We will never know.
After their deaths, my mom (Cam’s sister) longed to be able to see the pictures and videos that Alicia had taken on her phone as we were all together that Christmas just before they died. There are ways to pass on digital access to pictures and videos, email and social media, etc., but if you don’t plan for it before you die it is difficult to get access to afterwards.
All of these things made me realize that estate planning is such a vital service that I wanted to provide it. I wanted to make sure that I could help families create plans that would make tragedies a little less painful because passing property would be more straightforward, and would help pass on the memories that are more precious than money.”
It’s not just about the money.