It’s the one personal finance topic people often try to avoid, even though they know they shouldn’t. Estate planning refers to a number of activities dealing with how decisions are made and assets are handled and disposed of just prior to and following death or incapacity.
While far from the most upbeat of topics, it’s a very important one to contend with nonetheless. But rather than focus on specific estate planning strategies, let’s consider the potential benefits of addressing this issue at all.
Leave a legacy. Many people want to leave something tangible to those they love, whether to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews or friends. Knowing that your lifetime of hard work and saving can make affording college, buying a first house, a car, or starting a business easier or possible for someone you love can be gratifying. A final will and testament spells out the specifics of how your assets are disposed of. And you can also leave an explanatory letter to your beneficiaries to let them know what they meant to you, why a gift was made and how you hope your bequest will help enrich their lives.
Unburden your loved ones. Making difficult end-of-life medical decisions can be stressful and anxiety ridden for those who care about you. But this is a burden you can take off their shoulders by putting in place advanced directives — otherwise known as a living will — that express your wishes for continuation of life-support and other medical decisions if you aren’t able to make them for yourself. And it’s a very loving thing to do for your children or other family members
Support a charity. Do you have a charity that means a lot to you? You can leave a lasting gift by remembering that nonprofit organization in your will. Whether you want to support curing childhood diseases, environmental efforts, animal welfare, or a church, synagogue or mosque, you can take comfort in knowing that you’ll help support the causes that matter most to you even after you’re gone.
Take control. Estate planning in some ways, is the ultimate assertion of control over your final destiny. Whether through the establishment of a trust, the creation of a will or the documentation of your advance directives, you’ll be able to maintain greater control over important decisions throughout your life and beyond.
Remember, estate planning isn’t only for the wealthy. Everyone will have to make end-of-life decisions that have tremendous consequences for themselves and their loved ones. Once you have all the essential documents in place, you most likely will not have to revisit these decisions very often. And with an appropriate estate plan in place, you can get on with enjoying your life in the here and now.