There is No Such Thing as Emergency Estate Planning


Folks. I hate to break it to you. If you’re calling around frantically looking for an estate planner, you’re too late. Every time I get a call from someone looking for an attorney who can respond that day or even that week, someone is screwed—either the person in need or their family. There is no such thing as emergency estate planning.

“Do you do hospital visits?” “Can you come see my mom at her nursing home?” “Can you do a power of attorney for my dad? He’s in memory care.”

I’m happy to help people when they’re in these kinds of situations. But the help I can give is not as helpful as if I had seen them well before circumstances demanded action. In situations like these, legal support is more like chaos management than thoughtful, actionable, wise planning.

That we all need some kind of planning beginning from the age of 18 is not new news. It’s old news. It’s not a huge surprise that we age. That we get in car accidents. That we fall off our bikes. That our hearts or brains get injured. That an epidemic happens from time to time.

But I get why people don’t plan. I get why people can be in the hospital, barely able to breathe, turning blue, and still say quite assertively, “Oh, I don’t need an estate plan yet. It’s too soon.”

A lot of people don’t feel ready to deal with death. And some are so terrified of the concept that they freeze when the word is mentioned.

If you sit there for a minute and think about YOUR death. About YOU dying. About your loved ones dying. Except for the kids, don’t think about that.

What happens in your nervous system? Maybe your breath gets shallow, or your fingers get tingly or go numb, or your head starts to hurt. Yeah. Join the club. It’s crazy how powerful those feelings about dying can be, isn’t it?

I’ve observed in lots of people a profound unwillingness to look into the face of death. This fear also seems to correlate with a somewhat shallower, more constricted existences. The people who are most afraid of dying tend to also be those who are most afraid of living fully. That’s so unfortunate a result. Not coincidentally, the avoidance also often results in really messy estate administrations too.

Many clients discover the process of estate planning, which is an exercise in facing mortality with someone familiar with the terrain, can offer an opportunity to probe some of humanity’s most interesting existential questions, like:

  • Where have I avoided resolution of issues weighing on my heart?
  • What has my life meant?
  • What do I want to do with the rest of my time on earth?
  • Where do I desire to do better?
  • Have I healed all the trauma I’ve experienced or am I still carrying that around?
  • Have I made all the love, all the art, all the music, all the poetry I wanted to?
  • Where have I compromised myself that I can reclaim now?
  • Have I left an example of how to live a good life?
  • If I died right now, have I left the world a better place than I found it?

Clients who are asking these questions are the most enjoyable to work with–many of whom have made an impact on my own life. I have worked with people who aren’t asking these critical existential questions and I can attest; they are not as fun to work with or be around as people who are on a first-name basis with death. People who are friendly with death tend to be people who have a strong sense of humor, have made peace in themselves with the way their lives have gone, and are able to express the meaning of their lives to their loved ones. The gift of a life well-lived and well-reflected is the greatest gift we can give to the people we leave behind.

I offer this not as a marketing tool to get you to plan with me. But as an inspiration to take a look at your estate plan as a stop on your journey of wholeness, of finding peace, of resolving as much as you can before you die so you leave this world in peace and in a better way than you found it.

Take your time at getting your affairs in order. Invest the energy, time, and money to do it well. Not for anyone else. But for YOU. Remember, there is no such thing as emergency estate planning.


About the Author - Martha Hartney

A later-in-life attorney, Martha Hartney opened the practice in 2010 to serve the people she loves because she is committed to helping moms and dads bring their greatest gifts into parenting fearlessly and with joy and making sure children are completely cared for if something happens to their parents.

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