Talking about your estate plan might make you uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t. Dying is just another life stage. It’s the most natural thing in the world. But there is something that keeps us from acknowledging our own mortality. Unfortunately that discomfort also stops us from making plans that could protect the ones we love the most.
We say it all the time in our estate planning workshops, and in private meetings with families, “Making an estate plan is taking action from the heart.” Estate planning is a gesture that comes from a place of love and caring for those who depend on you. An estate plan will remove a lot of worry, confusion and frustration from your family members, especially if you die in an untimely manner.
Communicating Your Wishes
An estate plan is really just a plan of action that saves your family members from a lifetime of wondering if they respected your final wishes. They might wonder if they provided the kind of burial service you wanted. Your loved ones might worry over whether they settled your estate in a way that would make you happy. Sometimes people are tormented for years because they forgot someone or something they think you would have wanted.
An estate plan removes all that worry. When a person dies with an estate plan in place, the family can give full attention to saying their final “goodbyes,” and to their own emotional healing. They don’t have to worry about what kind of service you wanted, or how it will be paid for. Your estate will be divided according to your plan. When your decisions are clearly recorded, and if necessary explained, it can eliminate a lot of confusion and hurt feelings. It can also save a lot of money.
If you’re ready to start talking about your estate plan, here are a few suggestions to addressing the topic with your family.
How to Start Planning
First, if you’re just starting to think about estate planning in Alaska, you can learn more here about what goes into a plan, how to select a beneficiary, and how to choose a guardian for your children. These are all important things to consider before you finalize your plans on paper. Choosing a guardian for instance is a big decision. We encourage our clients to give this careful thought before going forward with an estate plan.
Of course none of these decisions are carved in stone. Your estate can be changed whenever you like. But it makes sense to have a general idea of who and what you want included in your estate, before you make an appointment to make it official.
You might also want to sign up for one of our free monthly workshops, where you can get your questions answered in real time and learn from others in your group. Every family is different, so every estate is different too. Whether your estate is big or small, you still need a plan so that your home and property doesn’t end up in probate. Estate plans are not only for passing along property. Estate plans are for removing stress, answering questions, and providing security for those you love.
Having the Conversation
If you’re ready to start planning, then you have to start talking.
First, it isn’t just one conversation. Life changes, people come and go in your family. Jobs, circumstances, health, marital status–these are just a few of the things that can change, and that will affect your estate plan. So the conversation about your wishes should be ongoing. You should be talking about your estate plan every time something significant in your life changes.
Secondly, keep it light. A conversation about death doesn’t have to be macabre. When you think about it, talking about your estate plan is just that, “making a plan.” You can talk about it in the car, while you’re cooking dinner, over coffee. It may feel awkward at first, but in time it will become a natural part of the dialogue in your household. These kinds of conversations can be very healthy for a family. Instead of focusing on fear, focus on love and peace.
Thirdly, don’t wait until a crisis arises to begin the conversation. In a crisis, you may not have the time to fully consider your options. Or you may be incapacitated and unable to decide anything at all. Young families often put off these decisions thinking they have time “later.” We encourage all families to prepare for all scenarios, so they are not caught unprepared in an emergency.
Talking about your estate plan with your family is so important. A carefully thought out estate plan can actually provide comfort to your survivors. Don’t think of it as preparing for death. Think of it as a protection plan for their lives. In addition to property, you can also pass on your family’s legacy and your family values. Almost anything can be structured into your estate plan, if you begin planning now.