From my perspective, the goal of estate planning is to provide peace of mind. It’s a way to ease the burden for your loved ones in the future. Many families end up in a situation where they’re dealing with countless people and challenges following the passing of a loved one. When an estate plan isn’t in place — or hasn’t been updated in years — they have to navigate every issue that pops up, which can be a major source of stress.
April is Stress Awareness Month. Stress is something we all experience, but when it comes to the future of your estate, you can do many things to ease your and your family’s stress.
In these types of situations, there are three primary kinds of stress: family, financial, and health care, and each one can be overcome by setting expectations, planning, and keeping your loved ones in the loop.
When it comes to family, one of the biggest sources of stress comes from wondering “What’s next?” When your instructions aren’t complete or up to date, family members and heirs will be left asking that question. They need to know what to do with your accounts and assets.
You can relieve this stress by setting ground rules with your family and having conversations outlining who should do what and where to find pertinent documents. It’s remarkable what a little communication can do! And don’t have these conversations just once. Make it a regular habit. Estate plan maintenance is just as important as having an estate plan.
You can reduce financial stress by determining who gets what, setting up trusts, and making a long-term plan for your heirs’ tax burden. Putting a financial plan in place also helps your heirs avoid probate court and prevents extra administrative costs, various fees, and headaches.
To take that one step further, many families don’t want the government meddling with their affairs, even more so when they’re dealing with the passing of a loved one. When you have to go to probate court, or you owe unforeseen taxes, that’s when the government will have its say in your family’s matters, and it can be very frustrating.
Finally I want to touch on health care, as it can be another major source of stress for families. When you’re younger, you might not think about your future health care. When you draft your estate plan, you may feel like you’re still in your prime. However, you should never overlook the future. If you’re 84 and you still feel like you’re at the top of your game, great! But never assume that will always be the case.
Your family needs to know what your wishes are when it comes to medical care. A situation may arise where you are incapable of making a decision for yourself. Alternatively, you may need long-term care. This gets into elder law, but in this case, you’d want to think about protecting your home, life savings, and assets. Make sure your family knows what you want down to the letter.
When you sit down with your family and spell out your wishes for the future, you’ll avoid stress and confrontation later. You’ve probably noticed that I’m a big fan of transparency. Be upfront about your wishes and desires for the future of your estate. Keep the conversation going and don’t hide details from one family member due to uncertainty (or because you don’t like them). No matter the situation, there are solutions. Don’t stress about it!