There’s a common misconception about estate planning—the idea that it’s all about numbers, money, and material assets. That’s definitely part of it, and you want to make sure you get your estate planning right on a technical level—that is, legally and financially. But there is also a soft side to estate planning. After all, estate planning is about people, first and foremost, so it’s important to consider emotional and relational elements as you weigh your estate planning options.
We’ll show you what we mean. Here is a quick overview of some of the more humanistic elements of estate planning.
Choosing a Beneficiary
Let’s start with beneficiaries. Beneficiaries are not the same thing as heirs. Heirs receive assets directly, while beneficiaries receive them in a trust. The difference is critical, because it means beneficiaries do not have to worry about probate or related duties. Frankly, this is why we typically recommend setting up trusts in addition to wills. (There are other advantages, too—like preventing adult children from squandering their inheritance early on.)
Choosing your beneficiaries is obviously an important part of the estate planning process—and one that requires you to think through some of the specific needs of the people you love the most.
Another example of the “soft side” of estate planning? Making funeral arrangements.
It’s simply about making your wishes clear. Leave instructions in your estate about what kind of funeral you want. Touch on everything from the general mood and motif to the duration of the funeral. Be as detailed as possible here; being comprehensive not only helps ensure your wishes are followed, but it also gives your loved ones confidence that they are honoring you as you wanted them to.
Note that funeral planning can have a numeric component, as you may wish your estate to provide all the needed funds for funeral expenses—but that’s a topic you can discuss one-on-one with your estate planning attorney.
Ensuring that your estate planning promotes peace within your family.
Contentious items like family heirlooms, highly personal possessions, and ancestral homes need particular attention to avoid legal problems down the road. Appending notes to the will describing where particular assets will go, known as codicils, will avoid confusion and make transferring particulars easier.
Another aspect of this is communication. Be up front with your heirs and beneficiaries about what they can expect from your estate plan. Try to minimize any surprises, which can in turn prevent disputes.
There’s also the matter of online accounts—a complicated topic, and again, something you may want to discuss in greater detail with your estate planning attorney.
Some general advice: Catalogue various online accounts and rewards memberships from service providers and shops for easy access to them later. Also take note of user license agreements for many accounts as they often do not allow transfer to different users.
Also make sure that you keep a list of your online accounts—including passwords and other necessary login information—and append it to your estate planning documents. Provide your loved ones with a “road map” of the online accounts they should be looking for.
Undeclared, Missing, and Found Items
One more aspect of managing an estate plan that isn’t exactly technical, but it still important: Rounding up undeclared, missing, and found items.
Again, some general advice: Try to tally all former accounts that are not updated but may still be active, like insurance from previous employments, cash in older banks, or pension plans. Other items like overlooked money stashes in piggy banks fall under the personal discretion of the executors of the estate.
As with online accounts, your goal should be to make life easier for your heirs, beneficiaries, and the executor of your estate. Provide a road map for any and all relevant items.
Attending to the Softer Side of Estate Planning
The soft side of estate planning is detailed and complicated, but it is important because it facilitates smoother transfer of key assets. Take the time and effort to iron out these aspects of the plan and make it easier for those left behind to move on, without any direct transfer mistakes. Again, with any questions about managing an estate plan or about the specific aspects of estate planning in California, reach out to your lawyer.
Singh Law Firm is more than happy to help. We’re estate planning experts, and can advise you in setting up irrevocable trusts, avoiding probate, and more. For a proven wills and living trust lawyer with specific knowledge of estate planning in California, reach out to Singh Law Firm today.