Why I Care About Estate Planning (and Why You Should, Too)

Today we welcome a special guest blogger, Stelter Client Strategist Kasi Zieminski: lifelong learner, superb storyteller, mindful marketer.

When I was 22, my mom died unexpectedly.

Two months before college graduation, I had been focused on spring break, finals and job interviews. And then my life turned upside down. All of a sudden, I was thrust into unfamiliar and overwhelming tasks like planning a funeral and navigating the probate process.

My mother, at age 46, did not have a will. What she did have: a small home close to foreclosure, a car about to be repossessed and a list of creditors waiting for their cut of the “estate.”

Processing the process

I will always mark the day I returned to campus, carrying boxes of her belongings back to my dorm, as the end of my young adulthood. I’d long felt like an old soul, but losing my mom seemed to fast-track me to full-blown grown-up.

Finalizing her estate took about a year, as I recall. My best friends helped me pack up her things and clean out her home. I worked with an attorney who handled probate and a realtor who sold her house—all from 1,700 miles away, where I had moved after graduation.

Once I paid the creditors and filed her taxes the following spring, I was ready to close the books—literally and figuratively—on this difficult chapter of my life.

Something I can see now, nearly 15 years later, is that I conflated my grieving process with the probate process. Once the legal and financial arrangements were complete, I thought I was “done” with the whole messy death and loss thing. But it turns out that’s not really how it works. After spending that first year burdened by the logistics of my mom’s death, it took me much longer to make space to celebrate her life.

Why am I telling you this?

If you work in planned giving fundraising, you get that having an estate plan is important. You keep up with tax codes and legislative updates. You know the gift vehicles that yield the best bang for their buck. You’ve probably heard plenty of stories not unlike mine.

During National Estate Planning Awareness Week—in the midst of a year like no other—it’s important to remember the people behind the plans (or lack thereof).

  • The grandmother who worked since she was a teenager but can barely get by on her husband’s Social Security.
  • The man whose elderly mother and middle-age wife are both declining from dementia.
  • The adult siblings arguing over their inheritance.
  • The couple raising their kids and looking after their aging parents.
  • Anyone who’s lost someone they love and wants to make a difference in their memory.
  • All of us grappling with our own mortality and legacy in such a time as this.

What can we do?

Think about how you’re communicating to, and about, these folks:

  • How can we connect in authentic and meaningful ways?
  • How can we embark upon the hard conversations?
  • How can we provide the information people need to protect their loved ones and themselves, and support the causes and organizations they believe in?
  • How can we invite donors to share their stories and inspire others to make an impact?

Whenever I map out marketing strategies or curate fundraising content for our clients, there’s part of me thinking about my mom, and 22-year-old me, and the tools and resources I wish we’d had to help make sense of the chaos all those years ago.

Donors are on a journey, and when we do our job well, we meet them where they are and help equip them for the road ahead.

What’s your story?

This work is personal for me. It may be for you, too—and it should be for your organization. Do you have your own version of this story, or know someone who does? Share it!

Let’s continue this conversation, during National Estate Planning Awareness Week and beyond. Thanks for the important work you do—for families, philanthropy and our shared future.

And, don’t forget to take care of you!

We know the old adage about the cobbler’s kids not having shoes. Have you been so busy working with your donors that you’ve neglected your own estate plan? Help yourself to this free resource and take a moment to reflect on your plans for the people and places that matter most to you.

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