A few weeks ago, I got into my Ford Flex and drove to Trader Joes. After a little over a mile drive, I arrived safely and parked in the parking lot. I went to unlock my seatbelt and felt a rush of feelings spill over me. Panic because I forgot to wear my seatbelt and gratitude because I made it safely despite being unbuckled. This was an anomaly as I have been buckling up religiously for years. But that has not always been the case. 

Growing up in the 1970s my family never wore seatbelts. Frankly, I do not think the car we drove around in as kids even had seatbelts. It was my grandpa Harney’s little black sedan that we shared with my cousins. 

Later, we traded my grandpa’s car for a Vista Cruiser station wagon which was equipped with seatbelts. However, the only time I remember a seatbelt even being mentioned was while my family was on vacation and my mother warned, “Put your seatbelts on kids, your father is driving through the mountains.” Hilarious, as if our seatbelts would save us from the 5,000-foot drop. 

In my young adulthood, nobody wore seatbelts unless we were forced to by the car’s design. Remember the automatic seatbelt that moved around the door to belt us in? That old design trick did not deter my friends and me from remaining beltless. We outwitted that seatbelt by scooching out of its way while it moved then we sat on it, obscuring its use. Genius! What a bunch of idiots. Nowadays that behavior seems so ridiculous. 

So, what changed? Why did I go from emboldened in my twenties to vigilantly cautious in my fifties? Data, education, and community. I could not deny the increasing onslaught of studies and data that wearing a seatbelt could save my life. The lightbulb finally went on. Plus, my friends were beginning to recognize the value of wearing a seatbelt. There is strength in community. 

Now I am as vigilant about my family wearing their seatbelts in my Ford Flex as I would be if we were riding a roller coaster. Hence my panic in the Trader Joe’s parking lot. 

My view on estate planning is like my view on seatbelts. I am an estate planning true believer. An estate plan may not be able to save your life, but it can save a whole bunch of heartache for your family. 

Now that I have the data and education about the value of estate planning, I cannot believe I ever traveled through adulthood and years of parenting without one. I know the amount of disruption and divisiveness probate can cause. I have seen that a medical emergency can turn into a crisis without powers of attorney. The lightbulb finally went on when my husband Mike had his heart attack. I am happy to say I no longer have that guilty irresponsible feeling of not having an estate plan when I board an airplane or drive out of town without the kids. 

Luckily, today 90.7% of us regularly wear our seatbelts and in 2019 almost 15,000 people’s lives were saved by wearing one. I hope estate planning follows a similar trajectory. Perhaps, one day probate court will be a thing of the past.

Theresa Clancy, Attorney at Law

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