Then the 55-year-old father of three went through the process himself.
“Speaking about death and what’s going to happen once you’re gone are unpleasant topics that people just naturally want to avoid,” says Severo, senior vice president and financial advisor at RBC Wealth Management. “But the sooner you begin thinking about it, the better.”
While estate planning can be a stressful and emotionally-charged topic, it can also be a lengthy process. Severo points out establishing a detailed plan can take anywhere from six months to two years —so it’s never too soon to get started.
Severo discusses what you can do to push past the emotional aspects of estate planning to make sure your surviving family members can successfully deal with issues that may arise after you pass away.
Transparency is key
To help the people you care about cope with the financial, administrative and familial consequences of your eventual passing, be transparent about what they can expect from your estate.
Severo is all too familiar with the repercussions of not properly informing individuals about how you intend to include them in your estate plan. Mismatched expectations can often cause bitterness that could have easily been avoided if the news wasn’t coming as such a surprise, he says. On the other hand, a person may be pleased to learn that a thrifty parent was leaving them with an unforeseen windfall.
For better or worse, an inheritance can be life-changing. It’s important to discuss it with your loved ones upfront, so they can be mentally, emotionally and financially prepared.
“You don’t even have to talk in specific numbers,” adds Severo. “Speaking in general terms can be helpful—any information is better than none.”
Talking about your estate plans with your loved ones can also help diffuse potentially difficult situations, like when one sibling is inheriting more than another. Severo explains there’s usually a reason for the disparity, such as one sibling who needs more financial help. Often the family members receiving less may not mind as long as they are forewarned.
“What creates charged situations most are surprises. Open dialogue will go a long way for the peaceful settlement of an estate,” he says.
A good estate plan can easily become outdated or irrelevant if it sits on a shelf. Severo recommends a three-year time horizon for estate planning, including regular review of your trust to make sure it accurately reflects your current situation and your wishes. He recounts the story of one individual who didn’t update his estate—leaving assets to his former wife rather than his new spouse.
“A lot can change in three years; executors can move or pass away, or you may have had a falling out with someone. You have to make sure your estate plan reflects your current wishes,” he says.
When an estate plan includes a significant dispersal of money, it can lead to stress or conflict among the beneficiaries. Education is one of the best ways to avoid overwhelming heirs in line to receive large inheritances and guarantee their long-term financial welfare.
It can be all too easy for beneficiaries without any financial acumen to make poor investments. Severo explains the best way to avoid this pitfall is to start teaching your children from an early age to be smart with money.
When a relative passed down a modest sum to Severo’s children, he encouraged them to research and choose four or five stocks they would invest the funds in. Not only were Severo’s children excited about the project, they also learned a great deal about money management.
Being transparent about what a beneficiary may receive from an estate, and providing education about how to best manage the endowed assets, can go a long way to ensuring that the dispersal of your estate goes smoothly—and your wishes are successfully fulfilled.
This article first appeared on Forbes WealthVoice.