Why Haven’t I Done My Estate Plan?

Posted in Tips on by .

As I write this I must confess that I my draft estate planning documents are on my desk waiting for me to review and finalize.  Every time I take a car or plane trip, I worry that if something happened to me there would be confusion and if my husband dies, (I’m in a second marriage), I would get nothing because our estate plan is not updated.  Without upfront estate planning our hard earned assets may not help our loved ones, and the process for our kids will be overly complex, expensive, stressful and divisive at a time when they are also grieving.

I know there are many of you out there in the same boat!

We sat down with the 3 founding partners of Birchstone, Moore, LLC , an amazing woman-owned boutique law firm offering estate planning, probate and trust administration services to clients in the Washington, DC area.  Sarah Moore Johnson, Laura Stone, and Jennifer Birchfield Goode answered our questions about the issues and pain points in the estate planning process and this blog post is the first in a 3-part series that will hopefully bust some myths and provide you with information and motivation to do the ultimate act of love and self-responsibility, Estate Planning!

Together we identified three common reasons most of us avoid doing our estate documents:

Obstacle #1 My family will take care of everything, why should I worry, I’ll be gone. I don’t want to think about dying.

Sarah Moore Johnson:  We recognize that thinking about your own mortality and estate planning is about as fun as going to the dentist, but if you have kids, you must at a minimum take care of at least a few items!

First, if you have minor children, you absolutely should have a Will in place that names a guardian.

Second, in most cases, leaving your assets to minors is not a viable strategy.  If you leave more than $10k to a minor as a beneficiary of your IRA or insurance policy for example, the state will appoint a guardian of the property to manage those funds until your child is of age…usually 18.  Who will that guardian be?  You will have no say.  Sarah advises that your beneficiary designation form for your retirement accounts and insurance policies should name a family member or friend, “as custodian for child under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act”.  If the amounts involved are high enough, creating a trust for the minor and naming the trust as beneficiary instead of the minor is an even better option.

Laura Stone:  Estate planning is really important for blended families.  Balancing the needs of your spouse as well as your children from your first marriage can be complicated and requires planning.

Obstacle #2 My estate is so simple/small, why do I need to have complicated and costly estate documents?

One of the big reasons families hesitate to put estate documents into place is the cost, however, according to Sarah, this is a classic case of pay now or pay more later.  The problem with using Legal Zoom or another “off the shelf” program for your Will is the lack of counseling those services provide.  An attorney will discuss with you the pro’s and con’s of the people you are considering to serve in the roles of executor, trustee and guardian, and can give you ideas for how to resolve differences of opinion between your spouse and you on these matters.  The off-the-shelf Wills often do not contain legal provisions that are required in your home state, which can cause delay and expense in admitting your Will to probate.  Children and other relatives may have to hire accountants and lawyers to ensure that their rights are represented.

Typically an estate plan will include the creation of these basic documents:

  1. A Will and a Revocable Living Trust (if appropriate), that includes the naming of a guardian;
  2. A Durable Power of Attorney that names someone to make financial decisions in your stead in the event that you are incapacitated.
  3. A Medical Directive that spells out your wishes about health care treatment in your final days;
  4. A Medical Power of Attorney, that names someone to make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated.

Obstacle #3 I’ve been meaning to do my documents, I have the name of a lawyer, but when I try to think about who to pick as an executor/guardian etc.  I freeze up.

Jennifer Goode:  Selecting a guardian, executor, a trustee for your trust and personal representatives for your powers of attorney, and medical powers of attorney are some of the hardest decisions you have to make when putting together your estate plan.

Jennifer says that she counsels client to “think about who will take care of you and who will take care of your children.”  Sarah Johnson advises clients to envision what would happen right now – if your spouse and you did not make it home from work today, who do you see stepping in and caring for your children?  That is probably the person that should be named as guardian.  Another strong recommendation is to ask the kids who they would choose as their guardian, if they are elementary school aged or older.  Children can often see the right answer with a clarity that adults lack, because our heads are too crowded with family history and prejudices.

There are no hard and fast rules, it may make sense for one person to be the kids’ guardian and handle the money, or you may want to split those duties up. You may feel your parents may not be physically up to the task of guardianship, in this case using life insurance proceeds to allow the parents or other guardian to hire a nanny is a creative idea.  You may want someone nearby to have your medical power of attorney so that they are available to meet with family and doctors in person.

Whether you are a worrier or an ostrich, you have a need for estate planning documents!  Break the task up into simple pieces and figure out the next step.  Do you need to identify a lawyer, do you need to put together a list of people you want to execute and handle your affairs…ask for help, and remember sometimes done is better than perfect!

Next up:

  • Why do I need a revocable living trust?
  • Laura Stone on Estate planning during and after divorce.

Sending positive thoughts!

Carolyn and Beth


Women and Money: Where the Magic Begins

Posted in Financial Planning, Goals, Women and Money on by .

The women I meet are AMAZING.

They are running, and they are running FAST.  They are seeking to improve their communities, embracing aspirations, taking care of others, and following their desires … all while sorting out their own personal financial journey.

These women’s stories are relatable, passion filled, and inspiring:

“I want to play an important role in stopping human trafficking so much that I feel it in my bones.  I’d like to earn a master’s degree in Cybersecurity, but I still have undergraduate student loans.  How do I make it work without hurting my future choices?”

“I have had a long, successful career as a lawyer, and now I want to start my own business.  I have some money saved for retirement, but I don’t want to tap into it for my regular day-to-day spending while I get my business off the ground.  What do I do?”

“We didn’t have any money growing up and when we did, it went fast.  I now have an incredible job and make more money than I ever dreamed.  Yet, I barely have anything saved.   How do I learn to think differently about money?”

“My sister is a playwright and doesn’t make a lot of money.  I’m single and have worked in corporate America all my life.  I want a comfortable retirement, and I’d also like to help my sister so she can continue to pursue her craft comfortably.  How do I do this without negatively impacting my own retirement?”

These are all deeply personal, laudable, life-altering goals!

My answer to each one is the same – and it’s neither to stop spending nor to tuck away a heartfelt dream.  Simply stated: we must “SIZE IT” in order to “SEIZE IT”!

We need to …

… determine how big the desired goal is;

… see what money is coming in, what money is going out, and what money is saved;

… consider all the possible ways to achieve the goal – there’s never just one way; and

… calculate the dollars needed for each of options.

Once we do this, the MAGIC begins to happen.

As we talk through the various paths to success and see the trade-offs, she begins to OWN where she wants to go and how to get there.  She says YES to things that fill her up and NO to things that are just things.  She is courageous in her answers because she is coming from a place of knowledge, power, and energy.  She is moving from a being a worrier to a true warrior around her money.

If she wants a masters degree, to retire, start a business or understand her money, she has to be intentional with money.  She has to be disciplined and persistent.  She has to track it, monitor it, and let it flow.  Money is energy.  It needs to flow in and flow out and with intention it needs to know its true purpose.

This is what’s truly thrilling about empowering women through financial planning.


It’s evolving from being a worrier about money to becoming a warrior for your goals.

It’s about being intentional in your financial choices.

It’s seeing money as energy that can strengthen your financial world … and give you the power to move towards your heartfelt desire.

Let’s create the magic together.  We love helping women HONOR their purpose, LIVE their purpose and CELEBRATE their purpose.