I have commented before on the folly of having wills that are out of date, or worse yet, having no will at all. This is especially serious for farmers or small business owners who have built up significant wealth over their lifetimes. When asking people if their wills are current or what their children think about them, the response is often, “Why do you want to know?”
I don’t believe that keeping a will a secret should be the guiding principal behind an estate plan. Which leads to this big question: “How many beneficiaries, especially children, don’t know the contents of their parent’s wills?”
I find that only about 10% of beneficiaries have a copy of their parents’ wills. On the other hand, about 75% of children expect to play a role in providing care for an aging parent. This is a disparity that is setting many families up for conflict down the road!
This disparity between inheriting money and providing health care for aging parents is a serious issue today, highlighted by increasing media and cultural attention. There are two reasons – we’re now living longer and the costs of health care and assisted living are out-pacing inflation and today’s saving rates.
50% of us could live beyond today’s life expectancy, which may force some to rely on family members for financial support and care if retirement savings run out. Ironically, these are the same family members for whom many want to keep their wealth a secret!
Why do so many people keep secrets from the family members who may end up being the ones providing them with care on their last years? How do secrets serve the family, or add to relationships before we become old and dependant? Estate planning professionals say it almost always comes down to a lack of trust, and fear of death.
For those who view their money as a source of power and control, it’s easy to see how aging and relinquishing this power and control, makes dying a feared experience. Compare this to people who have taken the time to prepare their family, friends and charitable organizations, by sharing not just their wealth, but also their wisdom, and you’ll find some extraordinary relationships built over a lifetime, even when years outstrip savings.
Sharing the matters of your will requires both judgment and wisdom, nurtured by many conversations over time with our intended beneficiaries. This should not take place in the last year of our lives. Nor should it be when death is imminent, but at precisely the opposite time, when death is still seen as a distant and abstract event.
Your will should not be viewed as a solo “end of life document” but rather as a family collaborative process significantly improved by an open relationship with one’s intended beneficiaries. Viewing it as an act of collaboration, supported by frequent and deliberate conversations about the future, helps our beneficiaries understand that we plan to leave something more valuable than just our money.
This also helps temper our fear of death, when we know with confidence that our children and grandchildren will take our ideas, our life experiences and potentially our surplus assets at death to live purposeful lives themselves.
Ask yourself this question. Have you shared the contents of your will with your intended beneficiaries, the same ones who quite likely will be providing care for you later in life? Thomas William Deans has put out a book titled Willing Wisdom – 7 Questions successful families ask that is very informative and would be an excellent resource in the planning of your will.
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