The first step in the estate planning process is learning. What do you need to learn? I suggest this as your starting point: You need to discover how to stay in control of your stuff while you are able to be in control, as well as how to be sure that that your wishes will be carried out when incapacity or the grim reaper catch up with you. Sorry to rub it in, but at least one of those things is going to happen to you. Odds are that both of them will.

Certainly, you have views about the kind of healthcare you want to receive throughout your lifetime, and you have views about who should enjoy your stuff when you are done with it. The only way to make effective choices about those things is to know what your choices are. Learning about your choices is a lifelong process because your choices will change as your circumstances change. Your health is going to change. Your assets are going to change. Your comfort with your list of designated  decision-makers is going to change. The laws that affect your estate plan are going to change. As those things change, you will need to stay on top of the choices you can make in order to be confident that your wishes will be followed at every phase of your life — and perhaps beyond your lifetime.

Let’s say you are thinking about going on an adventure. Where do you want to go? How do you want to get there? Are there any better destinations you might want to consider? Is there a better means of getting you there than the one you originally chose? The only way to know the answers to these questions is to do some research, talk with people who have taken similar trips and, better yet, talk with folks who have helped lots of people take all kinds of journeys. It’s kind of like asking for directions. While I have never regretted asking for them, I have regretted waiting too long to do so. Don’t make that mistake.

Your life is a journey. If you do not make your own choices about the path of your journey, someone else will make those choices for you, and you might not like where you end up. So, learning about estate planning is your key to ending your journey well. The sooner you learn about your estate planning options, the sooner you can implement ways to mitigate or head off problems that are headed your way, even though you don’t know exactly what they are or when they will arrive. Read what you can, talk with your trusted advisors, and put what you learn to work in building the estate plan that will take you to your chosen destination.

Author of Est8Planning for Geniuses
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