For a wedding gift my cousin gave me a Hershey cookbook. It has the most scrumptious recipe for a triple-layer chocolate torte: three layers of super moist chocolate cake with an airy light chocolate cream filing covered in warm grenache sauce and sprinkled with chocolate shavings. It is a chocolate lover’s dream. I even have a friend who pays me to make it for him occasionally. As I was forking yet another heavenly spoonful of this decadent dessert into my mouth one day, I realized estate planning is much like baking.
How you ask? Because baking is really about love. And the more layers of love the better.
I always tell my estate planning clients that we are going to make a 3-layer cake. Why three layers? Because estate planning is about expecting the unexpected. We like to build in redundancies. If you only name your sister as guardian for your minor children, but your sister is killed in a car accident with you, your single-layer estate plan didn’t really do much. What if your brother, whom you’ve named as your second-layer, joins the military and is deployed? Your cake will not have enough layers to feed your family. I have my clients name three people for every decision-making position. Lots of layers’ taste best.
Have you ever bitten into the dry, stale cake that seems like it has been sitting on the counter for months? Well guess what, your estate plan can get stale, too. Too often I have clients who have an estate plan that is years, sometimes, decades old. Their families, decisions, assets, and the laws have changed several times over. If they were to die before having the opportunity to update their plan, they would be leaving a stale cake with moldy frosting for their family instead of a super-moist ooey gooey chocolate cake. What would you rather serve your family?
Let’s be honest, all cakes are not made the same. Rich frosting can glue all the layers together so they don’t fall apart. Estate planning is the same. A comprehensive estate plan that includes life insurance, a will, powers of attorney, and medical documents is the frosting that holds the entire estate plan together. It keeps the plan intact.
And wonderful toppings—strawberries, coconut, chocolate, nuts—add different flavors and surprises. Creating an individualized plan imparts your wisdom, guidance, and legacy. Maybe you will direct your trustee to distribute monies to your children every year on their birthday as a reminder of your love and celebration of their birth. Or perhaps you want to include language that your hope is for your child to pay a portion of their college living expense themselves so that they learn the importance and responsibility of bill management and self-sufficiency. These extra bursts of flavors make your plan unique to you and provide loving direction to your family.
There is a big difference between a stale cupcake and a triple layer chocolate torte. Which would your family prefer?