The Emotional Side of Estate Planning

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There are two schools of thought in the field of psychology when it comes to discussing emotions. One of the theories argues that emotion causes behavior. Thus, one’s emotional state results in action. On the other hand, another argument posits that conscious emotion results from behavior that serves as a source of feedback mechanism. Irrespective of which theories we choose, we know that emotions affect behavior and vice versa. They are interrelated and form part of human life.

Definition of Emotions, Causes, and Consequences 
Emotions form due to the interplay among various chemical reactions that occur inside the body, which regulates the mind and body. They assist us in coping with life, such as during interactions with others, when seeking direction, and making decisions.

In particular, emotions significantly affect how we think, see, focus, reason, learn, and solve problems. Our feelings often influence our focus or object of attention, which inadvertently affects the level of motivation and exhibition of behavior toward the object. In all, emotions help us to survive.

Going back to the school of thought, we learn that emotions activate fixed behavior “patterns” such as fight, flight, or avoidance actions. This belief works on the premise that while emotions influence behavior, it depends on the person’s past experiences and the present context. For instance, when faced with a potential family feud resulting from a decision, the panic you feel may lead you to respond aggressively. If this strategy worked for you in a similar circumstance in the past; or it may cause you to form alliances with other family members to gather support for your decision.

What is Estate Planning?
Based on judicial decisions, a person’s estate refers to the totality of their assets, without liabilities. So, when an individual, while alive, decides to plan by organizing and distributing their assets in the case of incapacitation or death, it is called estate planning. This concept involves planning the management and allocation of one’s estate ahead of any eventuality.

Importance of Estate Planning
Trusts and Estates are two acknowledged legal means for transferring assets to one’s beneficiaries, including heirs. Ideally, every adult who has any form of assets should try to have an estate plan which usually includes a Living Trust.

However, while a Trust allows you to transfer your asset in an ongoing manner before and after death, an Estate only allows a one-time transfer of assets, specifically after death.

Trust planning, in particular, helps the family in two ways: one is to help secure a family financially, and the other is for better control and protection of a family’s assets. According to an article, a U.S. Bank senior vice president and regional trust manager explain that “Trusts are vital to helping support people throughout their lifetimes and put plans in place for the next generation,” says Nancy Hermann.

An individual can also decide to draw up a Will that explains their intentions for distributing their estate upon their death. The document must be signed, dated, and notarized or witnessed by two people in compliance with the ‘Wills Act.’ In some states, parents of minor children use Living Wills to elect guardians for their children in the case of unfortunate circumstances. In contrast, they use a living trust to command how their other assets, including real estate, will be distributed and managed.

Realistically, anyone who wants to transfer their assets to one or more surviving loved ones after their death should both consider and set up a formal estate plan. The importance of planning ahead safeguards the family’s future, fortune, and legacy and contributes to creating peace of mind.

Careful estate planning is achieved by having a Living Will, Living Trusts, Powers of Attorney, and putting financial plans in place for managing financial commitments like taxes, debts, and loans. This essential set of legal documents makes it easier for family members to carry out the wishes and needs of the one who passed away or their wishes met if they are unable to speak for themself.

What Prevents an Individual from Engaging in Estate Planning?
Despite the apparent merits of planning, why do people still hesitate or downright avoid having such documentation, you would ask. Several reasons can be attributed to the cause; however, fear remains central. This emotional reaction has been discovered as the main facilitator for this avoidance behavior—the fear links to three major areas – Loss, Cost, and Appearing Ignorant.

The fear of death and giving up control is entrenched in superstitious beliefs and an unrealistic belief in one’s immortality. They believe that talking about death is taboo because they feel that they are jinxing themselves by attracting ‘negativity’ that runs contrary to their belief. They undergo various reactions like anxiety, depression, anger, and sometimes hostility when the issue of death arises, especially when linked to them. Similar responses are expressed when confronted with the possibility of losing control in situations like becoming incapacitated or memory loss.

At best, this line of thought is a myth because every living thing must expire or die at a given point. People need to face the reality that death is all part of living and the concept of estate planning is merely an extension of the caring role they have played while alive towards their loved ones. Also, the act of planning their estate ensures that what they have spent a lifetime building serves others, which in return keeps their memory alive, hence protecting their immortality though ‘only in memory.’ In the case of Trust planning, it ensures things are cared for while alive and, this action gives a sense of control.

Sometimes, the fear of potential cost for the services deters people, especially those with low income, who often consider that estate planning is for the affluent and benefits those left after their death. For them, the cost and benefit are not worth the trouble. After all, the assets are not really worth all the emotional energy and time spent sorting things out.

However, for any individual who genuinely cares for the family, estate planning is truly a reflection of the level of love for their family members regardless of how much it is worth. After all, one can argue that the kind of gifts we give members of our family reflects how much we care for them, not in terms of the price tag, but actually in the effort made toward choosing the right gift.

Another considerable fear that evokes an emotional reaction like procrastination or denial is the fear of dealing with an attorney. Sometimes, people associate dealing with attorneys with inviting trouble or engaging with the law, so they develop anxiety over how to work with a lawyer without becoming overwhelmed or rail rolled into making decisions that are not consistent with their values and beliefs. Just like the attorney’s fees also serve as a significant concern.

The estate planning issue also raises some complex and knotty issues, which accompany various family types and circumstances, such as blended families and extended families. Such complexities require tough and sometimes hard decisions that bring on some hesitation.

Unfortunately, the consequences of dying without an estate plan mean that any asset or property in your name becomes probate assets, subject to laws of intestate succession. This process is not only time-consuming but also often leads to family feuds and sometimes avoidable wastage.

How to Manage Emotions Associated with Planning Your Estate
Consistent with anything related to fear, the first step towards addressing any ‘fear-filled situation is becoming informed, which is a way of confronting the issue. Therapists often use two psychological methods to treat any anxiety-related problem- exposure therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy.

In this case, the best measure of treatment in addressing the fear of death, losing control, meeting an attorney, or cost is the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy. This method employs actively confronting the issue, for instance, in the case of fear of death which is a natural phenomenon and must occur. Everyone needs to understand that it must happen. One has to face the fact that no one is immortal. Confront the fact that death, dying, transitioning is all part of living. Whether you choose to discuss death or not, it will happen. While it is not advisable to keep thinking of death, planning for when it happens gives one some form of assurance.

On issues relating to working with an attorney, finding the right lawyer to work with matters significantly in this case. Investigating and depending on referrals often works in addressing the challenge. What’s more, the fear of cost remains unaddressed until one conquers all the other concerns.

The cost for service differs from one person to another based on their varying circumstances and dynamics. While some estate planning follows a flat fee rate, getting an estimate requires speaking to an attorney about your unique family situation.

Lack of information is also a significant obstacle to be overcome in the long run through education. Indoctrinating financial literacy and values between children and family members remains vital. Parents need to train their children about the importance of money and responsibility early in life. Teach them to respect money by saving and using family games as the monopoly, especially for younger-aged kids.

Beyond that, making planning ‘integral’ as a family value is crucial. It is essential to make sure that planning because part of the family practices so that discussing issues like ‘Trust planning’ later does not cause any anxiety.

In the real sense, estate planning is a gift to your family, a way of showing care for the family. The act of arranging your affairs to serve your family and loved ones, and interests is indeed the most precious gift you can give of yourself now and after. In addition to protecting minor beneficiaries, or adult beneficiaries from creditor problems, debts, change in marital status, poor judgment, and other external influences. After all, life happens!

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