High Five: The Zen Guide to Creating a Will

Orange City Iowa Estate Planning

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Over the last seven years of advising clients, I have come to the realization that many people aren’t doing estate planning because it’s intimidating. It’s scary. Depressing. That’s a lot of negative emotion! But I don’t think estate planning is a negative experience - quite the opposite. Follow this guide to finding the Zen of creating your will, and you’ll soon discover that all those negative thoughts have been replaced by peace of mind about your final affairs. [Read More]

According to some statistics, only 45% of people have written a will. That means that more than half of everyone you meet probably has no idea what will happen to their stuff when they die. Over the last seven years of advising clients, I have come to the realization that many people aren’t doing estate planning because it’s intimidating. It’s scary. Depressing.

That’s a lot of negative emotion! But I don’t think estate planning is a negative experience – quite the opposite. Follow this guide to finding the Zen of creating your will, and you’ll soon discover that all those negative thoughts have been replaced by peace of mind about your final affairs.

Zen is an eastern religion that focuses on meditation and quiet contemplation. It is, essentially, seeking clarity of thought. Phrases like “finding your center” arise from Zen teachings.

Our modern society has appropriated the word “zen” in day-to-day conversation. A person who is zen has achieved complete and absolute peace. “Zen” also implies simplicity.

Now, we can’t help you achieve absolute peace. But we can help you find peace with your estate planning. To simplify the task of creating your will, follow these five easy steps:

1. Plan Ahead

Before you visit an estate planner, the best way to make the process simple is to have a good idea of what you want to achieve with your will. This isn’t a question of what happens when I die. It’s a question of making the best impact you can make with your resources and decisions.

In our Mutual Interview, I often ask new clients what their perfect world would be. What is the best possible outcome you can envision when you finally pass away? Don’t think about taxes or bills or family fighting. Think about the good you can do for your loved ones or for the causes that are important to you.

2. Get Organized

Don’t try to make all the necessary decisions at once. Instead, make or ask for a checklist of the things you need to think through in order to create an effective will. Your will should accomplish your wishes, not what everyone else says you should do. So find out what it will take to spell out those instructions.

Once you have a checklist, approach the list one item at a time and you’ll surprise yourself at how quickly you come up with a comprehensive plan for what things your will should say and do.

3. Communicate

The old approach of keeping everything in your will a secret has never made sense to me. I think you should talk to the people who matter to you about what’s in your will. If you need to choose an executor, talk to the person or people you are considering. Ask if they are willing or if they would prefer you choose someone else. Once your will is created, talk to the beneficiaries of your estate about how and why you decided to do what you did. You can even prepare a letter or statement for your loved ones to read after you have passed away.

4. Be Clear

If a big part of being zen is having clarity of mind, then a will created through this zen process should be easy to understand. Use precise words precisely. Your lawyer should be able to achieve this outcome for the legal document, but you need to help them out by being clear about your wishes. Describe specific gifts carefully so there’s no confusion. Don’t assume that calling the farm around your acreage “the homeplace” will be understood by your lawyer or by your family (or their lawyers).

Clarity will lead to simplicity. Simple documents are ones that are easily understood by both you and your family. If you understand the terms of your will, you will be far more at peace with the final document than if you have no idea what the language in the will means.

5. Hire an Expert

Estate planning is the area of law that most lawyers fall back on as they approach retirement. That’s because it’s perceived as a form-based practice. Many lawyers will send you a form to fill out saying who your family is, what stuff you own, and how you want to divide it up. They’ll tell you to fill out and return the form so they can write your will. When their will form has been filled in, they’ll have you stop in to sign. It’s not an area of expertise as much as it’s a retirement plan.

But an estate planning expert will take a different approach. An estate planning expert will see creating your will as helping you give what you have to whomever you want in the way you want. They’ll want to save you tax dollars and court costs. But they’ll start by asking you about you.

An estate planning specialist will use a process that starts with helping you flesh out your ideal outcome, moves through designing a plan using simple questions and explanations, helps you know how to talk with your family about their roles and your wishes, and ends with a document that clearly states you wishes in plain English.

Writing your will doesn’t have to be stressful. If you plan ahead, get organized with checklists, communicate with your loved ones and state your intentions clearly, an estate planning expert will be able to hand you a will that gives you the peace of mind that you are leaving the legacy you intend to leave.

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