It’s not uncommon for someone to feel more than a little unsettled at the thought of estate planning. After all, estate planning means thinking about how to dispose of your estate when you are gone. It can be helpful to look at estate planning from a different perspective. Estate planning helps give us control over an event that is totally outside our control — death. When you think about to whom you want to leave your estate and in what manner, your intentions are understood and your goals are realized. You protect your family from uncertainty and conflict and allow them time to focus on you and their relationship with you.
I like to think of estate planning as the Irish think of funerals. The Irish are well known for choosing to celebrate the lives of their loved ones at their funerals. Funerals often involve plenty of food, drink, and celebration. The Irish tend to think of funerals as a happy send off for their family members. I cannot think of a better way of conducting a funeral. Our lives are full of laughter, love, joy, and celebration. I love that the Irish conduct their funerals with this in mind.
I like to think of estate planning in the same way. During an estate planning meeting with an attorney, you will discuss what will happen to your assets when you are gone from this world and on your way to your next adventure. It is a time to evaluate the people and things in your life that you hold most dear. It is a time to think of who in your life you love, who you trust, who you admire, whom you want to protect, and how hard you have worked to get to where you are. It is a time to reflect upon how you got to where you are. It can be an enlightening experience for many people. A listing of assets can be reaffirming and reassuring as we approach retirement or other significant experiences in our lives.
Estate planning is also a time when you can sit down with your spouse, significant other, loved ones, and an attorney and explain your fundamental beliefs about death and dying. A valuable estate planning document, a health care directive, is available for you to describe in detail your core values and desires regarding a time when you may be incapacitated. You may have spent 50 years with your spouse and never once discussed these issues. It can be an enlightening experience where you and your spouse see each other through new eyes.
For most people, estate planning provides peace of mind. They know that after they draft these documents, they never have to worry about what will happen to their families after they are gone. Estate planning can open the door to a conversation with family members about your wishes. “I left Tommy the house, Sue the farm, and Billy the business” can open up a dialogue with your loved ones about what they want and how it will be perceived. So many times people fight over little souvenirs from their parents’ homes without ever realizing that what they are fighting over isn’t the souvenir but rather the feeling behind the souvenir. If Tommy tells you he really doesn’t want the house, but Sue does, you can avoid putting your children in awkward and disruptive situations during a time they should be focusing on you.
Estate planning does not have to be sad. In fact, it often is quite the opposite. People often walk out of an estate planning meeting feeling happier, more in control, and with more peace of mind. Happy estate planning!