Imagine the scene at a family dinner, when everyone was well fed and comfortable, and your children brought up your estate planning. “Are your Wills still from when we were kids? You should really get those updated. Who did you even have signed up to handle everything for you back then?”
They have a point, and it has been on your mind for the past few weeks, especially knowing someone might ask about your progress when you see family again at the next big meal of holiday. You didn’t know where to start, so you never did.
Planning for your estate doesn’t have to feel daunting. You can begin with these three principles:
· Keep your information up to date. As a rule of thumb, legal documents, such as Wills, Trusts, and Powers of Attorney should be reviewed every five to 10 years, or at the time of a major life change, such as a marriage, death, or a move to a different state. When you review your documents, confirm that the people you have appointed to act in critical roles are still able and willing to do so. Also check to ensure the document still reflects your wishes regarding who will receive an inheritance. This is a good time to review your insurance policies as well, to ensure you have named beneficiaries and that the beneficiary structure on your policies coordinates with your Will to holistically reflect your wishes. If this feels complex, a qualified professional can help to ensure you are not missing any of the steps and your wishes are carried out.
· Decide who will carry out your wishes. Although it is not fun to think about uncertainties in the future, the reality is that there may come a time when we no longer have the physical strength, desire, or mental capacity to handle our own finances or medical needs. With this reality in mind, it is imperative that you have duly executed power of attorney documents in place before you need them, so you do not find yourself in a situation where it is too late. When appointing someone to act on your behalf, whether as your power of attorney, or as a trustee or executor after you die, consider these characteristics:
1. Does the person align with my values? Will they make decisions the way I would?
2. Does the person have some degree of knowledge about the area I am asking them to assist with? They will likely outsource help to professionals, but they should still have a sound head on their shoulders and a professional who matches your values to guide the process.
3. Is the person available, in terms of both time and proximity? These days, much more can be done from afar than once was the case, however having someone nearby who is available to step in when needed is ideal.
· Communicate transparently with your family and the people you appoint. A key to leaving a lasting legacy is planning for how you will be remembered. Perhaps charitable giving is a value for you, or it may be structuring a trust to provide for a family member in need. Once you have decided your wishes and worked with an attorney to document them officially, there is one more pertinent step that too many of us fail to prioritize: clear communication to those you love. Hurt feelings are easy to come by when you mix grief with disappointment at the time of a loved one’s death, but this outcome doesn’t have to be inevitable. Lovingly communicating your reasons for making the decisions you do, while you are still able, is one of the best ways to prepare your loved ones to join you in leaving the lasting legacy you hope for.
As you consider these principles for planning your estate, our team at Ambassador Advisors is ready to assist. Whether you have a question about who to appoint or how to most effectively incorporate charitable giving into your legacy plan, we can help you navigate these conversations. We can also connect you with legal professionals, who can prepare necessary documents for you.
Next family dinner, don’t wait for your children to bring up the question about your legacy planning. Surprise them with the news you are already working on it, and maybe even that you’re finished with your plan!