I didn't have much of a motivational problem when it came to creating my first will, shortly after my son was born. But now, more than 22 years later, he's a college graduate with full-time job in his field of study, and can support himself. (Yay!) But despite the change in our circumstances, we were dragging our feet on updating our estate plan to fit them.
"I think people just have trouble accepting their own mortality," said Ken Cutler, the Princeton, New Jersey, attorney helping to update my will. And the only purpose of a will is to deal with issues involving your death.
Flashback to 22 Years Ago
Let's start with the will my wife and I prepared after the birth of our son. We were both working and had retirement plans, some savings and life insurance -- but we were far from wealthy. Obviously, if I passed away, everything would go to my wife: all of the assets, all of the responsibilities. But the hard decisions were about control: Who would be the guardian to raise our little boy in the event that we both passed away (which is not quite as unlikely as it sounds, because of car accidents and the like), and who would handle the money we had left for him.
"A lot of times people go in to do a will thinking it's about, "Who will get my property?" But it's a lot more complicated than that," said Cutler. "You don't come in thinking about having to decide between a sister or a brother-in-law, or who's going be the guardian."
After weighing our choices, we decided that my wife's younger brother was the best fit. He had two young boys of his own.
Our Situation Is Different Today
Back to today. We first met with Cutler about two years ago, when our son was about to turn 21. He told us what was involved in crafting a new plan: selecting trustees and executors, dealing with estate taxes and maybe setting up a trust account. We waffled, interviewed other attorneys, and put the task back on the to-do list, where it sat. College graduation motivated us to try again.
My wife and I drew up power of attorney documents and health care directives that appoint each other to handle those responsibilities. Our son is the back-up.
Cutler laid out the new issues we'd have to consider, such as the possibility that we'll have a daughter-in-law one day, and maybe even grandchildren. These future family members ought to be accounted for well before we even know who they are. "You want to plan for and avoid a situation in a young marriage, and prevent the in-law from receiving your money" if the marriage dissolves.
And even though we are fortunate to have a son who is sensible and wise beyond his years, we wouldn't want him to suddenly find himself in possession of an inheritance in a form that could easily be blown. So, at Cutler's suggestion, we have established terms in our wills for a trustee who would give him access to the money at three stages over the next few decades, if we're not here to spend it ourselves.
11 Ideas for Your Retirement Travel Bucket List
When Our Son Left the Nest, We Knew We Needed a New Will
The Earth has 370,000 miles of coastline with some amazing spots to walk along the beach, listen to the waves crash and relax -- or even party. In the U.S., you can choose among hundreds of Atlantic coast towns: the quiet of Cape Cod; the wide expanses and soft white sand along the Jersey shore, the dunes in North Carolina, or the high energy of Miami Beach. On the West coast, there are the hipster cool California beaches of Newport and Venice Beach, and the serenity of Oregon's Cannon Beach, which holds a sand-castle contest every June. And if the thousands of beaches on the continent aren't enough, you can hop over and take surfing lesson on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii or go windsurfing in Maui.
Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos won the 2014 Travelers' Choice award from TripAdvisor.com for its diving and snorkeling along the miles of accessible coral reefs. Other popular Caribbean destinations include the U.S. Virgin Islands, Barbados and the Cayman Islands. These are all year-round destinations, although many experts say the spring is the best time.
Is there anything more romantic than a relaxing week, watching the sun set from your private hut in the French Polynesian island of Bora Bora? Been there? Done that? How about the honeymoon hotspots of Tahiti or Fiji or the 115 islands of the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean? Check out Australia's Dunk Island rainforest, or get to the Maldives while you still can. Some climate experts warn that it could be the first nation to disappear due to climate change.
There are far more than seven natural wonders in our world, but that list is not a bad place to start. You can see the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia and Mount Everest. There's also the dramatic natural scenery along the Swiss Alps as well as 59 U.S. national parks, including the classic (Yosemite, Yellowstone), the most-visited (Great Smoky Mountains), the wet (the Everglades) to the dry (Death Valley, where the temperature once hit 134 degrees).
If you want everything taken care of for you, a cruise might be your ticket. It's a floating home with tons of food (of varying quality), entertainment and multiple destinations. It also may give you the most bang for the buck, with budget packages available as well as upscale voyages. You can cruise through the Caribbean, up to Alaska (in-season, of course), through the Mediterranean, through the fjords of Norway or down the rivers of Europe. A cruise can also offer something for you, your children and the grandkids, too. The biggest cruise companies are Carnival (CCL) (which also includes Princess and Holland American), Royal Caribbean (RCL), and Star Cruises (based in Malaysia).
After endless meetings, computer time and paperwork, this is the time to get moving. The Grand Canyon is not only grand to look at but it offers some high-adrenaline hiking and white water rafting. Yosemite, Yellowstone and other national parks also offer top-notch hiking trails. Overseas, you can take a four-day, 30-mile trek along the Inca trail to Machu Picchu in Peru; explore the rugged beauty and wildlife of Australia's Outback, or cycle through the rolling hills and villages of France's Provence and Bordeaux regions. While these are active vacations, you don't have to all of the work yourself. Tour companies will make the (sometimes-luxurious) arrangements, and you don't have to rough it.
This might be the ultimate getaway: book a seat on Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic flight into space. The first one is set to launch in the spring of 2015 from the company's Spaceport in New Mexico. Obviously, it's not for everyone. The cost for a seat is more than $400,000. If you want to keep your feet firmly planted on earth, revisit Darwin's trip to the Galapagos Islands or interact with the penguins in the Falkland Islands. Or learn the local culture by trekking through Thailand or Costa Rica.
You can take a safari through more than 100 countries in every continent, but safaris are most associated with Africa. The best times are usually January through March and June through December. A trip into the wild is a chance to get in harmony with nature, experience local cultures and traditions and maybe capture it with one-of-a-kind photos.
I'm not sure which is better: a Michelin-rated restaurant in Paris or a sidewalk cafe with fresh baguettes and pastries. (I do know which is more affordable.) Europe is full of foodie destinations, such as Rome or a tapas crawl in Barcelona. In Asia, you'll want to sample the wonderfully fresh sushi in Tokyo and food in Huangzhou or dozens of other Chinese cities.
In the U.S., go coast-to-coast with lobster rolls in Maine, the famous restaurants and food trucks in New York, Chicago's burgers and pizza, Creole specialties in New Orleans and the coffee bars and fresh oysters in San Francisco. There are many local favorites. Travel+Leisure magazine names the pizza in Providence, Rhode Island (check out the movie "Mystic Pizza" for the Connecticut version); the cheesesteaks of Philadelphia; the small cafes in Savannah, Georgia; the Tex-Mex chili sauces in San Antonio; and the barbecue in Kansas City. When you've consumed everything there is to eat in the U.S., go north of the border to Montreal and Quebec for French cuisine.
Just because you're old enough to retire doesn't mean you too old to learn. In fact, this may be the best stage of life to expand your mind. Road Scholar is a nonprofit that offers 5,500 educational tours in all 50 states and 150 countries. Popular programs include Christmas in New York City and photography of the four corners region of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. In volunteer vacation, participants maintain trails in the U.S. Virgin Islands, work with orphaned or abandoned children in Peru or do other meaningful things with your time, brain and energy.
It's more than a Fleetwood Mac hit of the 1970s. The opportunities to travel are endless. You can go by yourself, as a couple, in small groups. You can go for a long weekend to Boston or settle in for a two-month stay at a villa in the hills of Italy. You can go on a limited budget (AARP offers travel discounts) or live in the lap of luxury. You'll meet new people. You can start to cross items off of your bucket list -- and add new ones to it.