Have you ever assembled a piece of equipment, or perhaps a toy for a child, stepped back and admired your great handiwork, only to find a part (or two) leftover which should have been used? On the outside, your masterpiece looks flawless. On the inside, however, you’re wondering just how important those pieces are. That “gap” could be the most important pieces.

When it comes to financial planning, there is an area we most often see as the “gap” after 35+ years of us working with clients.

The “gap” is this: What happens to you and your family in the event of an unexpected death or disability? We can plan for your investments, savings, insurances, budget and retirement. And all of that is good. But what happens to your minor children in the event you pass away prematurely? I know…not a fun read for today. But, it happens, and we all need to have a plan in place for what we desire to occur when, not if, we pass away. What I am talking about here is an estate plan.

Let me address a few myths when it comes to estate planning:

1) Estate plans are only for rich people. False. Estate plans are for ALL people. We ALL have an estate (https://www.estateplanning.com/What-is-Estate-Planning/)

2) My family will just cordially work out who cares for our minor children. False. More often than not, a judge listening to both sides of the family makes the best decision that he or she can. Whew! How much easier this would have been with simple wills declaring his or her wishes for who should care for the children.

3) The courts will just work out what is fair for everyone involved. False. What is considered “fair” is relative to those involved. Did you know that in many states, Mississippi being one, a spouse receives the same percentage share of an asset as a child would should the deceased die without a will and the asset had no named beneficiary?

These are just a few myths that come to mind. Over the years, we have seen the heartache involved when a person’s estate is not planned well, or at all. They may have sufficient assets to care for loved ones. However, without a properly designed estate plan, disaster can occur, causing stress for loved ones.

We often get asked: “Should I pay an attorney to help, or could I write my own will?” Well, “yes and yes.” You should pay an attorney, and you can write your own will. However, we believe it is much wiser to get professional help, especially should a problem arise down the road. You can attempt to diagnose that continual headache, rash or stomach pain all day long using webmd.com. Or, you can pay a doctor who does this type of work on a daily basis.

So, what are essential parts of an estate plan? Our industry has called it the “Three-legged stool”:

1) Last Will and Testament
2) Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
3) Advanced Healthcare Directive

That stool could have a fourth leg for situations needing a Revocable Living Trust. We won’t go into detail on any of these today, but it’s worth bringing up each of these items to the attorney you choose.

I have observed that the hardest step is the first step – not just in estate planning, but in many important areas of life: Making that first phone call and asking for help.

I am a big believer in professional help. That includes the work we do as financial planners. All your ducks may be in a row, but it’s worthwhile to have a second set of eyes to make sure. We think you’ll be glad you did.

Scott is the founder and a partner at Rivertree Financial Planning. Scott and his wife Helen currently reside in Jackson, MS with their three children Artur, Taylor, and Molly. They are members of Redeemer Church, PCA in Jackson.