I wrote in my last post that we need to change our thinking about estate planning. Instead of considering estate planning in terms of your own death, fear-filled and full of finality, ask yourself, “How do I want the people and things I value to continue living when I am gone?” If you’ve ever sold or transferred a business, you’ve worked with these ideas before. Estate planning really has more to do with life than death. The idea that partners this concept is that we must have an attitude of value about our lives and living, rather than a sense of fear of the unknown and our own deaths.
The things most commonly valued can be loosely thought of in three categories — your people, your stuff, and your community. You can build strategies into your estate plan that protect, preserve, or promote the people, assets, and community you value most.
The people you value. The people that mean the most to us are usually our spouse, children, family members, and friends. As a means of protecting my family in case I am suddenly gone, I might include a life insurance policy in my estate plan so that my spouse and children don’t suffer financial hardship along with my death.
Additionally, I might include terms in my will specifying at what ages my children receive assets from my estate. Stretching out the timing of asset distribution helps me feel more at ease with the notion that while I may no longer be present to teach my children about responsibility and stewardship, receiving assets in stages requires that as they age, they also gain some life experience and wisdom.
The assets you value. Assets people value can be financial, real estate, or objects such as family heirlooms. Different methods are used to transfer these different types of assets. Let’s use the transfer of a family farm as an example and assume there is both money and land included in the planning.
Preserving assets such as money and land has as much to do with good planning and transfer strategies as it does with teaching one’s heirs how to handle the business mechanics of the assets once they are transferred. It isn’t enough to ensure one’s children inherit all one has accumulated during life. One must also spend some time teaching the next generation about how to tend those assets so that they are preserved and can provide benefits as long as possible.
The community you value. Many of us value our communities and the services, organizations, or programs unique to our areas. Maybe you volunteer at the library or help organize a community festival. I’ve tutored literacy, volunteered at church, and given donations to several local organizations. I believe the only way one’s community not just survives but thrives is by becoming involved and taking an active part in those places and programs I believe in. I contribute my time, energy, and money to the programs I think I can help in my own small way. Other people contribute to other organizations and programs and that is how we keep our community lively and robust. It bears considering that before or after one dies, plans can be created to promote a group, program, or organization one feels strongly about.
What do you value? Think about the people, things, and parts of your community that you enjoy. What has brought meaning or pleasure to your life? Using the answers to these questions, it is entirely possible for you to create plans both during life and as part of your estate where you support the people, things, and organizations you love.