“The greatest mistake we make is living in constant fear that we will make one.” – John C. Maxwell
Though there are many misconceptions about financial planning, two common ones are:
it’s only for the wealthy and/or
it’s only for ‘type As’ with Herculean levels of self-discipline.
Even people in the throes of planning – who are neither wealthy nor perfect – can find themselves deterred by certain types of planning for fear of not having enough or making mistakes.
Estate planning, “the disposition of assets during life and at death,” is an example of planning that tends to inspire discomfort and aversion. At first glance, estate planning focuses on things that require us to acknowledge our eventual passing and really, relinquish our sense of control over our lives and our assets. Think wills, powers of attorney and executors.
Good advisors, more than anyone, know how hard it is to think about and plan for the time after we’re gone. Combine these heavy emotions with the complexity of estate planning and it is understandable why people might feel overwhelmed and prefer to ignore it altogether. But estate planning is far more about gaining control than relinquishing it and far less about ourselves and more about our loved ones.
For those who have been avoiding estate planning, here are three key questions to consider:
1. Do you have assets?
Although this is a straightforward question, a lot of people overthink their answer. Young people especially, who tend to have lower incomes and fewer assets, convince themselves they don’t need a formal, legally binding will because they don’t have enough to bother. What many of them don’t consider however, is their debt and how it too can be inherited by loved ones after their passing.
Perhaps paying for a lawyer to draw up a will isn’t practical or necessary for some but having a plan for their assets (and debt) in the event of their passing is.
If this reasoning sounds familiar, consider writing a holographic will. It is simply a letter of direction signed by two non-beneficiaries that outlines how your assets are to be divided and distributed. Though more contestable than a formal will, it is still a legally binding document unlike giving someone verbal instructions.
2. Do you have dependents?
The last thing anyone wants is for the government to choose a guardian for our loved ones. Estate planning looks at the impact our passing would have on loved ones and helps us determine the key people we need to appoint (trustees, guardians, beneficiaries) to ensure our minor children, dependents, and even pets will be taken care of in the manner we approve. There’s no need to worry about making a mistake either, these key players can be modified as life circumstances change.
Estate planning also addresses survivor income needs, often in the form of life insurance. To be clear, different cultures have different opinions on life insurance which means there is no one ‘right’ view. One way to think of it, however, is as a method of compensating for the loss of your income and ensuring your family has the time and resources to deal with your passing as comfortably as possible.
3. What are your final wishes?
Rituals and practices surrounding death vary all over the world. In Canada, having a funeral is commonplace and so is having to make the very personal decision between burial, cremation, or perhaps other options. Trying to plan for and make these kinds of decisions on behalf of others can be extremely difficult and emotionally taxing.
Having a will that explicitly outlines final wishes (i.e. specific funeral details, charitable intentions, burial or cremation preferences, etc.) can help alleviate stress on loved ones and ensure they don’t grapple with the choices they may otherwise be required to make.
Even if our natural inclination is to shy away from estate planning – whether it is because we’re afraid of making mistakes others will suffer the consequences of (i.e. triggering taxes) or because of the unease thinking about death brings – it’s important to keep in mind that having a plan keeps us feeling in control and at ease.
As difficult as it may be to imagine the time after we’re gone, it is so much more comforting to know our planning can help soften the impact of our eventual absence on our loved ones and hopefully, enable their continued protection and prosperity.
For help establishing or revising your estate plan, contact us.