Want to Protect the Things You Love? First, Make a Plan

December 01, 2019
Robert Ross
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


Want to Protect the Things You Love? First, Make a Plan
Family Hike In Autumn. Photo By Sylvia Sky.


Jill Schlesinger has written a wonderful book about finances, “The Dumb Things Smart People Do with Their Money.” She covers many important subjects with clarity, relies on excellent research, and suggests further study.

Most relevant in my review is Dumb Thing No. 12: You Don’t Have a Will. Schlesinger leads the reader through the horrible experiences of Eileen, a lady with a 12-year-old son, whose husband Jim died without a will. Schlesinger writes that the lack of a will “represented a tragedy for Eileen. … In the end, Eileen spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees that she could have avoided had Jim gotten his act together and put a will in place. And the process took twice as long, making her grieving process that much more difficult.”

Any trust and estates lawyer, trust officer, or probate judge can tell many similar stories—as well as similar stories when wills were not kept up to date.

A 2017 survey by Caring.com found that fewer than half of adults in the United States—42 percent—“currently have estate planning documents such as a will or living trust.” Almost two-thirds of Gen X respondents didn’t have these documents, even though this demographic was heading into middle age and many of its members had small children for whom to provide. In fact, the survey found that just 36 percent of respondents with minor children had plans in place in case they died.

As Schlesinger writes: “That’s crazy!” First, she advises, it doesn’t cost much—as little as $500 for a simple will—to have an attorney draw up the necessary documents. You could even do it yourself using legal forms available online. Second, she adds, “failing to draw up a will and perform proper estate planning is unmistakably selfish on your part—in fact, the height of irresponsibility.” Her Eileen anecdote illustrates how it’s your family members who wind up paying the biggest price. Schlesinger concludes: “Of all the off-the-hook stupid mistakes you can make with your money, failing to have a will is indisputably the worst.” Enough preaching; make an estate plan. Provide for yourself first. Provide for the people you love next. If you have room, provide for organizations you love. Finally, do it! And, then follow up from time to time to keep your plan current. Buy Schlesinger’s fine book to learn how to do so.


  1. Commit to put your affairs in order.
  2. Provide for yourself first.
  3. Provide for the people you love next.
  4. Then provide for the organizations you love.
  5. Finally, implement your plan.

Become a Founding Member of the Trail Angel Society

The Trail Conference is fortunate to have dedicated benefactors supporting its mission, including many who have chosen to secure its future through planned gifts. To express our appreciation for this committed group of donors who have remembered the Trail Conference in their estate plan, we established the Trail Angel Society. Members of this special group share the common bond of generosity and vision to ensure that the trails and natural areas we share are sustainable and accessible for all to enjoy for generations to come. We invite you to join with others who share your passion by becoming a founding member of the Trail Angel Society.

By filling out this form, you will ensure the Trail Conference benefits from the philanthropy of our Trail Angels both now and in the future. For every form we receive, a generous donor will give the Trail Conference $500 to support our efforts today. Note that your bequest intention form is nonbinding. The form is to show that you are making plans now, but you have every right to change them later. If you’ve made a provision in your estate plan that benefits the Trail Conference, use this form to let us know, even if you’ve told us previously, and we can benefit NOW from our generous donor. For further questions, please contact Membership and Development Director Don Weise at [email protected] or 201.512.9348 x813.