Several years ago on one of my morning walks through my neighborhood I stopped in my tracks, having spied a small black cat in my neighbor’s driveway down the street. I couldn’t believe it! I had actually found my daughter’s lost cat, Spitball, who went missing the prior summer. We were heartbroken in our family and we put up signs everywhere and were constantly checking the local animal shelters’ websites for any black cats that looked like ‘Spitters’. Alas, after many false hopes, Spitball never turned up.
So you can see that by this time, 9 months after Spitball went missing, that I had seen many black cats in the meantime and had ruled all of them out as being Spitball. This cat, however, looked identical to Spitball and in fact, when I went up to her and called her name she started purring and “squeaking” just like Spitball. (Spitball never could meow, she just had this squeak about her when she would try.) I promptly picked her up and knocked on the front door. No answer. Fortunately I had my cell phone on me and I called my husband at the house.
“You’re never going to believe this. I found Spitball.”
“You’ve got to come down and pick us both up.” My husband thought I should wait for our neighbors to get home but I was having no part of that. I had found our Spitball and she was coming home with us.
When my husband arrived, he agreed it sure as heck looked and acted like Spitball. We were ecstatic.
Our kids were excited too when we ran in the house but alas, our excitement was short-lived. You see, within 5 minutes of having Spitball back in the house, she rolled over on her back for a belly rub (yes, Spitball liked to have belly rubs too) and my daughter told me that she didn’t think this was Spitball. I asked her why and she pointed to the prominent white spot on Spitball’s belly. Our Spitball was completely black.
“Well, it could have grown in over the last 9 months.” I was in denial at this point, after all, I just surreptitiously taken this cat home from our neighbor’s house.
Long story short, I finally got in touch with those neighbors and sheepishly explained what I had done and asked them how they happened to come about having this cat. To her credit, the woman was very nice and offered for my daughter to come visit “Smokey” anytime. (As my daughter pointed out, who the heck names their all-black cat “Smokey”?)
It was a humbling experience to say the least and I learned my lesson, which is this:
When you don’t have all the facts, you sometimes make silly decisions that can adversely impact the ones you love. In my case with the cat, I had gotten my kids hopes up and my daughter was crushed all over again with the “second loss” of Spitball.
The same is true and can be applied to our estate planning decisions. We may think that what we are trying to accomplish is very simple and make decisions based on our limited knowledge of the facts and the law. That’s why it’s extremely helpful to work with a qualified professional who knows the law and has an unbiased perspective of what you are trying to accomplish. That professional can help you spot potential pitfalls to your plan and can help you brainstorm various ways to accomplish your estate planning goals in the most practical, effective and cost-efficient manner possible.
Plus, even most importantly, a qualified estate planning lawyer can help you pull all of the pieces of your ‘estate planning puzzle’ together so every aspect of your estate plan (including the titling of your assets, your beneficiary designations, your guardian designations, trustee designations and your documents) works together, instead of against one another.
If you’ve never completed your comprehensive estate plan, or haven’t updated it in over 3 years, feel free to download my free planning guides from my website. After all, take it from me, it’s what you don’t know that gets you into trouble!