Talking About Worst Case Scenarios with Your Family: Estate Planning and More

by Thursday Bram · 4 comments

We spend time and money to keep things from happening: We get our cars maintained to reduce the risk of an accident. We install smoke detectors so that we have enough warning to leave a building in the event of a fire. We encourage all sorts of people to learn CPR and first aid so that there’s always at least rudimentary medical care available.

But we rarely talk about what happens if all those precautions don’t help. We don’t talk about worst case situations, about what happens to our family when we’re gone or how to handle the details of our estates.

And while it’s no good to dwell on the worst case scenarios, it is a topic that you do need to talk about with your family while everyone is healthy and hearty.

After a Worst Case Scenario

If we can be blunt here, the simple truth is that humanity has not discovered a way to achieve immortality and probably won’t in the near future. We will all pass on eventually, although hopefully not for a very long time.

In turn, that means that we’ve got to have those uncomfortable conversations with our loved ones about what we want to happen after the fact. How you want your estate handled, what needs to happen to ensure that anyone you feel responsible for is taken care of, how end of life care is handled, the funeral arrangements you expect and other decisions are all worth making for yourself, rather than putting someone else who might not know your wishes in the position to deal with it. You may or may not have the sort of estate worth fighting for long after you’re gone, but you can save a lot of grief by talking through your expectations with your loved ones and getting it all down on paper.

The Things that Matter to You

When it comes to estate planning, many of us have different expectations and concerns. Not everyone is particularly worried about what happens to their stuff after they pass away. Others want to make sure every last thing is dealt with as they want. Talking through the matters that go along with an estate may be the only way to decide your priorities.

In doing some estate planning with my husband, I noticed that one of my big issues was something that many guides to planning a will and the other necessary documents pretty much ignore. I hold a stack of copyrights, because of my work as a writer. Technically, those copyrights are part of my estate since they are (theoretically) worth money. Because I do care about what happens to my work down the line, I’ve done some further investigation into what it takes to handle that part of my estate — it’s relatively simple, provided that the executor of an estate knows that he needs to deal with it in the first place.

There are plenty of guides out there that will walk you through the basics of what you need to take care of your property, your family and yourself in a worst case scenario. You may find that a basic approach is enough to take care of those things that matter to you. You may find that you need to dig a little deeper, perhaps even bring in some legal advice. But it all starts with sitting down and having that initial conversation.

You Have to Keep Having the Conversation

The hardest part about estate planning and all that goes with it is that it’s not a one-time deal. You have to rehash the conversation in light of new situations. I’m pretty sure that if certain family members of mine were to pass away, there would be guardians appointed for some very confused thirty-year-olds — confused because their parents hadn’t updated their wills since those kids were born.

By choosing not to update your plans after major life events, you increase the chances that there will be a problem when the time comes for documents such as a living will to take affect. There may not be an expiration date, but it’s easy enough for someone to claim that your mind changed if years and years pass between drawing up documents and the need to use them.

Be prepared to continue thinking about what you want to happen after a worst case scenario, if only because making such decisions will save your family pain in the long run.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Deb says:

    Mine is a comment. How do you deal with when you tried to help a family member and took out a loan on your 401k (I didn’t say it was a smart thing to do) and you also helped them with your cash flow ( they were in a very bad car accident and no insurance so that’s where my money went. I now have to go thru a debt management company so my credit is in the toilet and my checking account is in trouble. I don’t even have money to buy food or gas. HELP. People think I’m a dumb a- – for what I did. I’m just lost right now.

    • David @ says:

      I’m sorry for the financial losses you incurred. Short from being able to getting some of your money back from that family member you helped, you are really in the same situation as someone who overspent unfortunately.

      I’m assuming you are looking at EVERY single expense you have and trying to cut or reduce it. If not, do so now. And can you find other ways to earn a little more? Be creative. Sell some stuff, offer some services. You never know where you can find more.

  • The Col says:

    When it comes to estate planning. getting an attorney or someone competent to handle your matters where do you turn. In my case I have VA Benefits/SSDI Benefits and some very basic investments plus universal life insurance plans on everyone in the family. But as I write this its hitting me that I also am due an OPM retirement from the government, military reserve pension and need wills updated. Anybody have an idea of someone in the Dallas area that can tackle this group of stuff ASAP without taking me to the cleaners. Thanks Tony

  • Beverly Kurtin says:

    One of the things I have noticed is that the information on finding a good lawyer. Pre-Paid Legal Services can sometimes be a very economical choice. Many companies offer this service for their employees. So that my comment is not considered tainted, I used to market such a plan and am still a member, although due to health challenges I no longer am involved. However, that does not diminish the viability of using such a plan. Several plans are available. What I like most about the plan is that I can get unlimited legal advice, so when I tell a store who is treating me unfairly, “I’ll have my attorney look at this,” I MEAN it.

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