For many clients, thinking about estate planning is about as enjoyable as scheduling a root canal. Thinking about death and making decisions in the event of later incapacity is difficult, stressful and often a process that many put off. On the other hand, making a decision to create an estate plan (and following through with its implementation) is one of the best gifts that one can give to family members. There are three avenues to reducing the stress of estate planning.
The first way to minimize the stress of estate planning is to schedule a consult with an attorney. It may seem obvious, but making the appointment is the first (and biggest) step. We tell clients that making that decision to schedule a consult is the hardest decision they have to make– we will guide them through the rest of the process, step by step, until the estate plan is in place. We help the client think of the persons best suited to the qualities for each important fiduciary role (executor, trustee, guardian (of self and minor children), power of attorney, medical power of attorney, etc.) A simple discussion of personality types and qualities in my conference room often leads the client to names of these fiduciaries in my office. With a few names on paper, and a manageable “task list” to work on at home, the client has accomplished 75% of his estate planning process.
Another option we discuss is gifting assets during the client’s lifetime. One of the biggest joys is the ability to give another person a gift and experience the recipient’s reaction. When we create a will or trust, we plan a division of assets upon the client’s death. While you are alive, you may give away some of those assets to a loved one and experience the joy of giving. Not only will gifting during lifetime bring pleasure, you are also reducing the assets controlled by your estate plan.
Finally, communicate your intentions with loved ones. Do you know what your beneficiaries want? Do they even want that family farm, business or tea cup collection? Talk to your loved ones and determine what they want and need. Let them know you are creating or revising your estate plan and explain their fiduciary roles, if any, in that plan. Make sure your loved ones know where and how to find your estate plan. You should inform your loved ones where your Will, Trust and incapacity planning documents are kept in your home. You created a good estate plan. Make sure it can be located.