West vs. East on Estate Planning

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I’ve hit that age and stage in life where, as an American, I am strongly encouraged to, as they say, put my affairs in order. According to some (my dad!) I’m actually a little late in the game.  I’ve recently made official the plans for what happens with my belongings, savings, retirement accounts, etc. in the event of an untimely death, as well as creating a medical directive, a power of attorney, writing out my memorial wishes, and so forth. While I am in excellent health and well-being, one never knows what the universe has in store for us.

As I walked through this process I was struck by how very different the East is from the West in regards to planning for unfortunate events. My parents, my siblings, and most of my friends, especially those who have children, have plans in place. For those with small children, having a plan for who would be your child’s guardian in the event of a tragedy is perhaps nearly as important as one’s choice to have children in the first place.

In conversations with my husband around the topic, as well as Mongolian gal pals, I couldn’t believe how opposite our viewpoints were. Americans believe that by putting our affairs in order–having a plan for those worst case scenarios–will give us a better shot at never having to need those plans. Mongolians feel quite differently. To a Mongolian, making plans for an unexpected tragedy is a way of inviting it into one’s life and family.

This applies to both big end-of-life things, as well as ordinary everyday things. I’ll never forget my first autumn in Mongolia when my husband went off into the countryside for two weeks and would be out-of-cell-phone-range. I asked him WHO I should call if I needed help? What should I do? Before he could consider answering, he demanded why I wanted to think “such bad things?” While I was trying to put MY mind and worries to rest, I had brought forth those very things into HIS mind. Oh what a different lens through which we can see the world!

With continued reflection on this topic I’ve come to realize that in some manner we (East and West) are both a bit superstitious and have a different philosophical belief about how preparing or not preparing will be the best for our life. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this topic and what your culture has taught you to do, or say….or not do or say!

Heather Caveney
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