My unpopular opinions about estate planning.

My unpopular opinions about estate planning. Rachel Donnelly October 12, 2022
My unpopular opinions about estate planning.

Happy National Estate Planning Awareness Month! We know, we know. It’s not that exciting. 

Why get excited about a process as tedious and time-consuming as Estate Planning? And why does it have its own month? Because it is so important to talk about. 

However, since I’m sure you’ll be getting reminders from just about everyone about the importance of having a will, financial power of attorney and advance healthcare directive, etc., I thought I would take a different approach. So, in no particular order, here are some of my unpopular opinions as well as some of the misconceptions about estate planning.

1. Do not DIY your estate plan. Do you want to see me squirm? If so, you should be around me anytime the subject of estate planning has come up with a friend, family member and/or colleague and they say “Oh, I created my will from a template I got online. I’m all good!” Insert record scratch. 

While I do think it’s great to see the attention entrepreneurs are paying to America’s estate planning problem, I have yet to see a platform or online service that replaces a real live human working alongside you to discuss your needs and goals while troubleshooting possible pitfalls. 

So just as you probably shouldn’t get medical advice and diagnoses from Google or WebMD, please proceed with caution when DIY’ing your estate plan with a template or service purchased online. You’ll get what you pay for, and inadvertently, potentially create costly problems for your family down the road.

2. Do not make your will a punitive document. This opinion may sound a little out there, but I get fired up about this one. 

Sometimes people leave property or assets to beneficiaries which are subject to certain conditions. For instance “I bequeath $10,000 to my nephew Justin Jones if he goes to college”. 

I’m all for incentives, but what if college isn’t the best option for Justin? While some may see these provisions as incentives, at the end of the day it could be seen as good old fashioned bribery and have unintended consequences. Furthermore, you could be leaving your executor or trustee in a tough spot to serve as judge and jury when it comes to handing out that bequest. 

I get it that you’re upset because your sweet little angel daughter married a bad boy motorcyclist tattoo artist, but don’t punish her by disinheriting her unless she divorces him. Just think – with the money she receives from your estate, she and your son-in-law Axel can buy matching Harleys and ride off into the sunset. (No offense intended to motorcyclists or anyone named Axel)

3. Do not name co-executors. Many people are afraid they’ll be seen as picking “favorites” so they appoint co-executors to administer their estate. As someone who has been a co-executor two times, I can personally attest to how it makes matters worse. Here are a few cons of naming co-executors:

  • It can cause probate process to be inefficient
  • An equal distribution of work is nearly impossible
  • Paperwork, checks and documents must be signed by both
  • It can lead to an executor going rogue
  • Co-executors can disagree over the value of property
  • Long-standing conflicts unrelated to the estate can arise

Do the executor a favor and appoint one.

4. Do not leave it up to your executor to decide what to do with your stuff. Life is short, the days are long but the stuff is forever. These are the words I think each time I take on an estate clean out project for a client, which is always one of the most challenging aspects of my job. 

After having cleaned out 5 houses, including one that had been in my family since 1890, I know firsthand how emotionally difficult and agonizing this can be. Here are a couple of tips:

  • Downsize now. If there are family heirlooms or sentimental items that are to be bequeathed to specific family members, friends or organizations, do it now. Don’t wait until you’re gone. Experience the joy of gifting these special items today.
  • Also consider things you don’t want your children or family to find. Are there photos, notes or other belongings that would be embarrassing to you or to them? Make plans to discard them or leave instructions with someone you trust to dispose of your literal Pandora’s Box.
  • If there’s a keepsake, treasured object or family heirloom that you know your family doesn’t have room for or the ability to move it, take a photo and have it framed or create another special gift in its image.

At the end of the day, try to remind yourself that this is just stuff. Even if the item isn’t present, the memories always will be.

5. Estate Planning is not just for old people, families, or rich people. The best definition of the word ‘estate’ I’ve heard is “Your estate is everything you owe and everything you own at the time of your death.” 

So, do you owe or own? If so, estate planning is for you. Estate planning is not just for our senior citizens and retirees. Estate planning is for everyone. Young, old, single, married, divorced, kids, no kids. Are you reading this email? Then estate planning is for you.

I can speak from experience how stressful the process can be for those who only want to do one thing – mourn – but instead are left to do all the things. So why not take the time and effort now, while you are of sound mind and able-bodied, and get those affairs in order before it’s too late and simply put your own mind at ease knowing your family and next of kin are going to be just fine whenever your day comes?

What about you? Do you have any opinions you’d like to share?