When all is said and done, estate planning is most often thought of as a way to secure your assets for future generations. When people think “estate planning,” they think of wills and trusts, drafted to make the most of what you have after you pass away, so that your family can preserve your financial legacy as well as cherishing your memory in other ways.
Yet, estate planning, is much more than that. Taking care of your finances and planning the redistribution of your assets after your passing is just one item on a greater list of responsibilities on your docket. If the meat and potatoes of estate planning is moving around your assets, then the softer side of estate planning is everything else – including detailing who should take care of your children, how you would like to be remembered at your funeral, settling potential family feuds and financial arguments, determining medical preferences, making end-of-life decisions, and more.
Think of estate planning as the first step in your legacy, a way to determine how you will be remembered, and as a collection of important decisions to set the tone for how your family will feel about your passing for years to come. How you will manage your finances in your final days is one question, but the bigger question is: what kind of mark will you leave in the hearts and minds of your loved ones?
Managing Family Feuds
While there are many ways to ensure that an estate plan is financially sound, it is just as important to see to it that your estate plan does not become a source of strife and discord at home. Something as simple as choosing a less-than-suitable executor for your will, or giving something to one of your children when their sibling would have appreciated it much more, can set off fights and arguments. Even develop into full-blown feuds. Knowing how to avoid such feuds is one of the finer and more important points of a good estate plan.
The first step would be to choose the right people. Too many people choose their trustees and executors on the basis of preference rather than competence. When choosing an executor among your children, pick the child with the greatest likelihood of doing a good job of managing your estate and distributing it honestly, equitably, and swiftly.
If you fear that no one in your family has the abilities to manage your estate and execute your will, or handle the responsibilities of managing a trust, then speak with your lawyer. Estate planning professionals can better help you find the right individual to manage your estate after you pass away. You will need someone who is responsible, patient, financially-capable, and emotionally-grounded. It’s best to choose someone who can execute a will or trust quickly and effectively, without dragging their heels or acting in bad faith.
Another option would be to name a third-party executor. Your estate planning professional can help you choose one, and in the case of a trust, most law firms work in partnership with a trust company to help manage their clients’ trusts.
Digital Estate Planning
A newer issue for some considering their ultimate future is the fact that there is very little precedence on how to deal with your digital access and digital assets after you pass away. Technically, many online service providers do not legally allow you to pass your accounts on after you die – meaning your iTunes library, Spotify access, Netflix account and YouTube channel might have to die with you.
On the other hand, some accounts might refuse to disappear. It can be difficult to get a social media account closed if you’re not the holder of the account, for example. On that subject, Facebook decided to offer families the choice to turn a deceased loved one’s account into a digital memorial, or to remove the account after proving their connection to the deceased through the help center.
Regarding the passing on of passwords: technically, only you are allowed to legally access your own account. Practically, however, this is not often enforced. iTunes accounts are tied to specific authorized computers and are accessible through a password associated to said account, so you could pass your computer, password and account on to your children (or whomever you wish). Many people have done so, counting on most companies to not enforce that specific rule under the context of a person’s death, even though the access does go against the official Terms of Service.
It’s important to explore how your various service providers approach the matter of death and inheritance before creating a “digital will.” This is a simple document that includes secure information meant to help access and manage your data online, from social network accounts to Dropbox accounts, email accounts, forum accesses, and much more.
Regarding Power of Attorney and End-of-Life Decisions
One of the more important choices you can make in your life is how you choose to go out. Sometimes, life ends suddenly and abruptly. At other times, we get to have a choice in how and when it happens. Disease claims the most human lives, with heart disease, pulmonary disease and cancer topping the charts. Yet as we near our end, we must make critical medical decisions about our continued care. Often, we cannot make these choices ourselves, as diseases can debilitate and incapacitate a person long before they die.
That is why it is important to choose a trusted person to make medical decisions for you (medical durable power of attorney). Another option is to draft a living will, specifically detailing what medical procedures you want to avoid, as well as giving instructions to healthcare professionals on how you would like to be treated if given certain diagnoses.
You cannot account for everything, though, which is why a medical durable power of attorney can give you peace of mind in knowing that even if you cannot directly respond in certain situations, someone you trust can respond for you.
A comprehensive and well-designed estate plan can account for most, if not all, of your worries. It can keep your family in harmony, help you distribute your life’s work and financial value with as little cost as possible, and help you kick start your legacy after death.