When we think of love, we often envision romantic gestures or acts of kindness towards our family and friends. Sometimes love is expressed is less exciting ways, though those acts can be profound in impact. Planning for your family’s future is one of those ways, particularly estate planning. Estate planning is the process of putting in place systems and protections for your family’s financial future. In this article, our friends at NW Legacy Law look at why estate planning is a loving act for your family, and how the attorneys guide families and their loved ones through these important discussions.
- Protecting Your Loved Ones: By engaging in pro-active estate planning, you get to decide who will be charge and what happens if your become incapacitated and at your death. If you have minor children, you can also nominate who you want to care for them as their guardian – and you can name different people to manage the finances for them too. Through the creation of a comprehensive estate plan, including wills, trusts, and powers of attorney (financial and healthcare), you can provide clear instructions on how your estate should be managed and who will be responsible for important decisions if you become incapacitated or pass away. If you don’t specify who you want in charge and what you want to happen, then your family will be left trying to guess what you wanted – and this can lead to significant conflict when each family member has a different opinion. Putting an estate plan in place ensures that your family members have clarity regarding your wishes and the authority to handle your affairs at your incapacity or death.
- Ensuring Financial Security: Estate planning allows you to secure your family’s financial future by making thoughtful decisions about asset distribution. By creating trusts, you can protect your loved ones from themselves and others. Trusts allow you to protect a person from themselves when they may not have the financial maturity to manage assets, which may be because of age, substance use challenges, or problems with managing money. Trusts also allow you to protect a person from others, particularly creditors. Unfortunately, the most likely creditor each of us faces is the person we said that we’d love until the end: an ex-spouse. Creating a trust for the benefit of your child or other family member can help protect the assets in the trust from going to the beneficiary’s ex-spouse. You can also establish specific provisions to provide for your children’s education, healthcare, and other endeavors important to your family, which might include religious obligations or service work. Taking the time to plan and allocate your assets wisely demonstrates your deep commitment for your family’s financial security, helping minimize the impact if you aren’t able to be there for them in the future.
- Financial Planning: In putting together an estate plan, you will look at the financial resources available to you and your family at your incapacity and death. Looking ahead allows you to be proactive in putting disability insurance and life insurance in place if there is a financial shortfall expected. While a family might be able to raise funds through GoFundMe if a shortfall occurs at your incapacity or death, you can proactively make sure funds are immediately available – and not require your family to rely upon the generosity of others – through disability insurance and life insurance.
- Minimizing Stress and Burden: The death of a loved one is an emotionally challenging time for any family. By engaging in estate planning, you can alleviate some of the burdens and stress associated with the probate process. With a well-crafted estate plan in place, your family members will have clear instructions and guidance on how to handle your affairs, such as who is to be in charge and what is supposed to happen with your assets. Making these decisions while you’re alive minimizes confusion and potential disputes during a difficult time for your family and loved ones. Your thoughtful preparations will allow your family to be less concerned in trying to determine what you wanted, and to be more focused on grieving and healing.
- Protecting Family Relationships: Estate planning can help preserve family harmony and prevent conflicts. What can be more loving than creating harmony and decreasing conflict? Clearly outlining your intentions and desires in legally binding documents helps eliminate ambiguity and reduces the likelihood of disagreements over who is in charge and how to distribute your assets. By making these decisions ahead of time and involving your family in the process, you foster open communication and transparency among your family and loved ones, ensuring that your wishes are understood and respected. While sharing your estate plan before you become incapacitated or die isn’t required, it makes your planning much stronger. This act of love can strengthen family bonds and prevent unnecessary strains on relationships.
- Honoring Your Legacy: Each person’s life holds a unique story and legacy. Estate planning provides you with an opportunity to live your legacy and share that legacy with your family and loved ones. This also leads some people to reexamine what they are doing now while they are alive, not just at their death. This legacy might include how you support charitable organizations through volunteering and financial gifts – or your legacy might be how you make space for friendships. In your estate plan, you can include letters to your loved ones that provide guidance on how to honor your memory and the legacy that you wish to leave.
Estate planning is far more than just a legal process—it is an expression of love and hope for your family’s future. By proactively engaging in estate planning, you protect your loved ones in the future by ensuring their financial security, and minimizing stress during difficult times. This act of love and intentional consideration demonstrates your commitment to your family. We recommend that you start the process of estate planning today, which could take the form of making an appointment with an estate planning attorney, writing out what you want to put in your estate plan, or talking to your family about what questions they have about if you passed early. Show your family that you love them today by getting started on your estate plan, so you can live your legacy.