The Last Challenge in Planning Your Finances Is One of the Hardest

Two of the most vibrant people I know are turning 80. They sold the home where they raised their family and spent their active retirement years and moved to a graduated living facility.

They have accepted something that most of us avoid — that someday they will die.

Accepting their death allows them to fully live the rest of their days. They take nothing for granted.

One of the challenges we face as planners is helping clients navigate being alive while accepting that someday they will die. Being alive means doing the things that are important. But if we don't deal with our deaths, then we are potentially leaving muddled estates and heirs stuck interpreting wishes.

Clean these items up for 2022.

The first thing to tackle is your estate plan. This includes where you want your money to go, who will be your personal representative, who can act on your behalf if you are unable to do so, and what health care choices you wish as well as who would be able to make them for you.

If you own property out of state, have complexity in your financial situation, wish for privacy and want an ease of transition, then much of your planning should be done through revocable trusts. In Minnesota, probate is not as big a deal as it is in other states, so don't fear probate (which goes through the courts). Any assets not transferred to your revocable trust or without beneficiary designations would still go through probate. You can set up your accounts using a "Transfer on Death" designation and name beneficiaries for everything from savings and investment accounts to homes. If you have a large estate, you will want some money to go into trusts established at death, though.

We often encourage philanthropic clients to name charities under separate retirement plans rather than in their estate documents. They can change beneficiary designations without having to change their wills.

Most of our clients struggle with who to name for the various roles. They don't want to create work for a personal representative, are worried it would cause strife if they only named one of their children better suited to handling issues through the power of attorney, and they may not want all their kids to jointly make decisions over their health care. So like good Minnesotans, they either don't execute their plan or avoid having the conversations.

Choose who makes the most sense and then talk about it. Most of the family estate planning fights we have seen happen because of a lack of communication. While family meetings about your wishes may be uncomfortable, they are the only way to create an opportunity to ask questions for those involved in carrying out your wishes. Without this meeting, your discomfort in dealing with this while alive will create their discomfort when you are dead. Don't make that your legacy.

Hire a good estate planning attorney. We like to have meetings with the attorney and the families so that technical and emotional issues are adequately covered. More professional eyes are better.

Often overlooked is an ethical will. This is a passing on of your values rather than your valuables. By writing down the things that have helped make you the person you are and signaling the things that have mattered to you and that you wish for your heirs to think about, you give them a chance to honor you. Since it is not a legal document, we prefer the ethical will to be descriptive rather than prescriptive.

But facing death also means determining how you wish to live out your later years. Some people can afford to have in-home health care and have a home that can handle it. Many don't. If you are seriously considering eventually moving to a graduated care facility, then it helps to do the work ahead of time. Visit places that you can afford and where you think you will feel comfortable.

Too many people say that "They're going to have to drag me out of my home feet first." That may be fine if you die suddenly, but if you have a long-term illness or suffer gradual deterioration, you may not have that choice.

The couple that I had talked about earlier come from families who suffered through Alzheimer's. While neither of them were currently showing signs of the disease, they felt their best option was moving to an independent facility offering increased care if they needed it.

When we choose to accept the future rather than fight it, we have a better chance of living more of it in the way we want.

Related: Let’s Play ‘Ignore It or Deal With It’ With Your Money