• Chelsea Burns

First Basic Steps in Estate Planning

Updated: Sep 6, 2019

Narrow streets wind through the open green space in a northeast pocket of Washington, D.C. Headstones, religious statues, and grave markers scatter the hillside of this historic landmark. Mt.Olivet is the largest Catholic cemetery in the District of Columbia and was interestingly one of the first racially integrated cemeteries in the city. Being buried alongside multiple generations of Burns’ at Mt.Olivet was very important to my father. For those who knew him, they remember the pride he felt about being a 7th generation Washingtonian.


My father secured his final resting place decades before his passing. The contact information for the cemetery was under tab 11 in the color coded binder. It was known that his funeral would take place at the church he attended every morning at 7 a.m. in Alexandria, VA. Knowing these details was incredibly important within the first 48 hours after his death. It allowed me to focus on other critical components such as organizing the viewing, the after life celebration, writing the obituary, and spreading the world to the people closest to him.


Estate planning can be intimidating. It stirs a mix of emotions surrounding death and loss. It is easily procrastinated as the administrative hassle can be overwhelming. However, as daunting as it is, I argue that it is the number one thing we can do for our loved ones. Getting your affairs in order is not only for the wealthy. Individuals with and without assets need to prepare for potential incapacitation, make arrangements for their body once they are gone, determine how they want to be celebrated, decide how their possessions will be dispersed, and elect those who will care for their dependents.


First Places to Start


1. Think About Your Post Death Wishes.

Do you want a traditional funeral and burial? Do you prefer to be donated to science followed by a celebration of life party? No one should make these decisions for you. Think it over, write it down, and share it with the people who will be responsible for executing your wishes. It’s especially important that your loved ones are not scrambling at the last minute to find a solution. The first week after you pass away is filled with both sorrow and adrenalin for your loved ones. The more pressure you can alleviate for them the better.


2. Create a Living Will, Health Care Power of Attorney, and HIPPA Authorization

A Living Will, also known as an Advance Health Care Directive, is an important legal document stating your critical care desires should you become incapacitated. Again, this is not a matter of wealth. It is a tool that you can prepare ahead of time to decrease the burden on your loved ones in emotionally sensitive times. A Health Care Power of Attorney appoints a person that will act on your behalf should you be incapable of making decisions. HIPPA Authorization allows a loved one to speak to the doctors about your health specific needs. Lastly, you need to eliminate any guesswork about sensitive subjects such as resuscitation. Google “Do Not Resuscitate” for more information.


3. Last Will and Testament

This legal document communicates your wishes regarding your possessions and dependents. In my experience, this is the bare bones minimum any person needs. Estate planning can be complex and there are many other tools and tax strategies someone can implement beyond a Last Will and Testament. I will not go into those at this point. However, I do encourage you to at least take the first step and secure a will. If you don’t have one, Trust&Will is a great place to start. At the point of writing this blog, I am neither a customer of theirs nor am I sponsored by them. However, I have tested their product and I think it’s easy to use and provides great customer support. I am a fan of any company trying to make the estate process easier. A simple google search will also point you in the right direction.

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