At the time of writing, it’s a sweltering 101* outside my window in San Antonio, Texas. In other words, the dog days of summer have arrived.
If you’ve never experienced the death of an immediate family member, I’m happy life hasn’t thrown you that particular curveball, yet. If you have, you probably know that things can sometimes get messy when it comes to dealing with the estate of a deceased family member.
According to WhatsYourGrief, an online resource that helps individuals through the grieving process, the number one source of conflict following the death of a family member is fighting over material possessions:
“In many (many, many) instances people do not discuss their end-of-life wishes and estate plans for many (many, many) understandable reasons,” their family psychology experts write. “This doesn’t always cause a problem. However, if the estate turns out to be surprising or unfair, those who are surprised or left out may interpret their loved one’s decisions as a statement of love or value (whether it is rational or not). Worse, it may cause confusion, questioning, resentment, or bitterness among surviving family members. Unfortunately, the only person who can explain the decision is gone and so people are left to try to make sense of things on their own.”
Planning your estate now can help ensure a peaceful transition of your wealth and property after you pass—which means your loved ones won’t need to worry about fighting over material possessions while they’re going through the grieving process.
Here are the five steps you need to take to get your estate plan up and running:
Step #1: Create a will.
A majority of Americans know a will is important, but only 40% have actually created one. While a will creation is not something that is usually top-of-mind for most young adults, it is not something that should be put off. There are numerous ways to go about drafting a will, including researching online resources. The guidance of an estate planner can help answer any questions that you may have and may even bring up questions that you may not even know to ask. Having a living will in place can relieve some of the stresses that many heirs burden themselves with after a loved one passes—plans, expenses, and asset allocations.
Step #2: Ensure that all related documents are completed.
Everyone has different estate planning needs. Your unique needs will determine what type of supportive paperwork you may need to go along with your will. For some, it's a specific type of trust, multiple trusts, or financial and medical power of attorney documents. Estate planning professionals can help recommend what documents are necessary for your specific plan.
Step #3: Review your beneficiary designations.
Do you know who you have named as your beneficiary on your life insurance policy or for any other policies that you may have in place? Since this is not something that most remember to check on a routine basis, it is a good idea to update/revise beneficiary information while you are planning for the future of your estate.
Beneficiary information is extremely important because it takes priority over your will when it comes to certain items. For example, if you have a life insurance policy that has your now-estranged spouse named as the beneficiary, he/she will be the one to receive your death benefit when you pass away, even if your will says otherwise. That is why many estate planners will recommend that you review your beneficiaries every two years. Although it is easy to forget about, you must remember that updating and revising your beneficiaries now can save your heirs the headaches down the road when you are no longer around to provide your input.
Step #4: Provide your executor with an up-to-date list of all of your information.
The executor of your estate is more than likely someone that you know extremely well and trust. This person should have copies of all the important documents you have in place, including your will, life insurance paperwork, forms, and trust information.
It is also a good idea to provide them with a current list of assets and debt. This ensures they have detailed information regarding your wealth, including real estate you own, personal property items, bank accounts, retirement accounts, investments, credit card debt, mortgage loans, and any other outstanding loans.
Step #5: Talk to the professionals.
Estate planning is not something to be taken lightly. It is a necessary action that should be carefully planned so that your heirs are not left with the additional burden of combing through excessive paperwork. It is easy to start some of these recommended items on your own, but it is important that you also talk to a professional.
Estate planning can sometimes be a complex exercise and can trigger a range of different issues, including legal, financial, and emotional obstacles among your loved ones. Often, people have the misconception that speaking with an attorney about estate issues can come with an exorbitant price tag, but before you completely rule that option out, check your benefits through work, union, or local associations. Some employers include access to attorneys for will creations.
It is important to keep in mind that estate planning is not just about money. Millionaires are not the only ones who need to have a plan in place—everyone should have an estate plan created. The main point to remember is that estate planning will give you and your loved ones peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be administered and your assets will go to whom you want!
Joan Cleveland, CLU, ChFC, REBC leads SWBC Life Insurance Company as President and CEO. With more than 30 years of experience in the life insurance industry. She holds her Agent licenses for Life, Accident, Health Insurance, and has multiple FINRA securities Licenses. Joan is a frequent industry speaker and media spokesperson. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Consumer Credit Insurance Association, the Texas Association of Life and Health Insurers, as well as the Life Insurers Council. In addition, she is chair of LIMRA’s Strategic Marketing Issues Committee.