Art imitates life, and sometimes, it gives us a unique perspective on something we’ve never noticed or taken for granted about ourselves. At other times, it simply points out idiosyncrasies and makes us question how we deal with certain things. For example: death.
As important and inevitable as death is, we rarely talk about it, especially with kids or loved ones. It’s almost as though acknowledging death is somehow inviting it to come claim every soul in the room, rather than starting a constructive conversation on how to deal with a person’s death, and what may come after for everyone in the family.
Inheritance is much the same thing, and for the exact same reason. The thing is, we tend to gloss over talking about the issues of inheritance because it’s an inconvenient topic and one that is difficult to address without addressing our own mortality. Coming to terms with that is very hard, and most people never do. But that doesn’t change that most people should.
This is because not discussing your inheritance with your children and your partner can cause them much grief after your passing, whenever that might be. Not even thinking about your inheritance is even worse, as your belongings would most likely be distributed according to your state’s laws rather than how you might’ve wished them to be distributed.
We’re Uncomfortable With Death
Most people are apprehensive about death. There are a few people who share a morbid fascination with the concept, but they’re the exception – for the most part, we’re naturally uncomfortable with death. We don’t want to die, and we don’t want the people we love or care about to die. The finality of not existing anymore is so difficult to grasp, that we’ve come up with countless different concepts of interpreting some afterlife to deal with it.
However, to talk about death with your family is important, regardless of your wealth or age. If you have someone to choose as a beneficiary and something to pass on or bequeath through a will, then there’s no reason to wait. Most people only jump through the hoops of estate planning when they feel like their time is drawing nigh – most Americans don’t have an estate plan of any sort. Yet there are countless ways to die outside of old age, or aging-related diseases. Car crashes, natural disasters, early heart attacks, stroke, an aneurism.
Life is short and can be a lot shorter than most people expect it to be. You don’t have to upset your family by bringing that thought up, but you should make plans about how to handle the estate, and talk to your family about how you plan to divide your assets. That is where things can get doubly awkward.
Inheritance Can Be an Awkward Topic
Not only is death a tough subject for many, but inheritance can be difficult to discuss on its own, specifically if you have several potential beneficiaries and very controversial ideas on who should receive what. Be sure to talk to your children, siblings and anyone else involved in your estate about what you plan to do, and why.
If you decide to give the business to your eldest before asking, you might miss out on the unsaid wish your eldest has to make something of him or herself – or you might not realize that your youngest has been hard at work with the hope of someday succeeding you.
If these issues are less of a zero-sum game, then things can be even more complicated. Say both of your children want your car, but you only plan to give it to one of them. Bringing this up can create an awkward situation, and even ruin your relationship with your child. But if you don’t bring it up, then you’ll hurt your child even more after your passing. It’s better to discuss your reasoning behind your estate plans with your beneficiaries, rather than leaving them all in the dark until after you’ve passed.
Ultimately, in most cases of inheritance, your estate will go through probate. Probate is the chance for disputes to be handled through the court of law – but such additional litigation can make probate last years, and locks up the entirety of the estate. It’s better for you to deal with such potential issues now, rather than cause additional grief and decades of family strife by leaving them unsaid, and hidden as a surprise after your passing.
More About Probate (and How to Avoid It)
Probate is the process by which a court decides the legitimacy of a will, and oversees its execution. Usually, probate involves electing an executor for the will, who will then see to it that the decedent’s wishes in their last will and testament are fulfilled.
However, probate isn’t always necessary. Or useful. There are ways to avoid it, specifically through a trust. Unlike a will, which goes into effect upon your death, a trust goes into effect as soon as it is drafted. By creating a trust, you can fund all your assets into it (save for a few exceptions, which can be taken care of through other means), and select beneficiaries who will gain control over assigned portions of the trust upon your death.
Here’s When Estate Planning Matters
Too many people make the mistake of waiting too long to get into estate planning. Your will isn’t final, and a revocable living trust is self-evidently revocable and amendable. It’s always better to start thinking about estate planning when two criteria are fulfilled:
- You own something of value.
- You have people whom you can pass this down to.
Every few years, take the time to revisit your estate plan and make any necessary changes. It’s even more important to make changes after major events that might completely change the way you plan to distribute your assets, such as a divorce.
Estate planning isn’t easy, or necessarily straightforward, and you’ll need all the help you can get. Don’t hesitate to call an expert to help you decide between a will or a trust, and find supplemental estate planning options to help you deal with all eventualities, such as a durable power of attorney, and documents that help you ensure that your pet receives a loving home rather than being sent to a shelter.
Although this post can help you learn more about the world of estate planning and the importance of thinking about how your death might affect your loved ones for years to come, it’s not meant to be legal advice on what to do, and when to do it. Every person’s circumstances are unique and demand an informed, first-hand opinion.