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Planning for “known unknowns and unknown unknowns”

This saying of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld aptly describes an inherent challenge in the estate planning process. Some of the events categorized into the ‘known unknowns’ bucket might be a heart attack, early onset Alzheimer’s or serious car accident. The other bucket as the name implies is more difficult to pin down.

Those ‘unknown unknowns’ are one reason to seek counsel from an experienced attorney during the estate planning process. An attorney who has handled these types of matters over the years can bring up issues that you would have never considered.

Insurance policies

One tool to blunt the impact of certain unforeseen events is insurance. Parents should consider term life insurance policies that provide for the resources to care for children.

Disability insurance, is generally more expensive, but replaces lost income if you are disabled. And the odds of becoming disabled are higher than dying. Here is an example, a car crash caused by a negligent driver leaves you with a long-term brain injury. You can no longer work full-time in your career field. Available auto insurance policies may not cover all your long-term lost wages. A disability policy might fill the gap and kick in while you are waiting on a settlement.

Conflicting answers and crucial details

Some other questions are harder to answer. Who is contacted if something goes wrong? There may be a number of people and the answer may differ in various “but, if” scenarios. If several adult children take turns checking in on an elderly grandma, the contact may change depending on who is in town.

Some new websites offer guidance on estate planning documents you might need or questions to answer related to the unexpected. One offers organization and storage services for online passwords (the private key for your bitcoin wallet), instructions on pet care (the cat needs two thyroid pills a day) or quirks in how things work in your house (a special trick to get a door to unlock).

While online tools offer a good way to start (some even come with prods), there is no substitute for individualized legal guidance. Establishing the right mix of insurance and a comprehensive estate plan is often easier than you would guess. Completion of the process brings peace of mind as well.

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