Building Connection – Can Estate Planning Improve Relationships?

Caroline has been weeding out old pictures. There’s a good reason for it: we don’t have much room and the picture books are falling apart. But looking through old pictures of family and friends can stir bittersweet feelings of love and loss. Mad Men’s Don Draper had it right: family pictures spin us “around and around and back home again to a place where we know we are loved.”

If you’re like me, when looking at old pictures, you’re likely reminded of just how important our relationships are. And as we grow older, you begin to realize how precious little time we have to spend with one another.

For me, the big wakeup call was after our oldest daughter started high school. I felt like I had very little personal relationship with her and knew that she would be leaving home in just a few short years. I really wanted to have my own connection with our children, not just through Caroline.

I’m sure many fathers are better about it. But I didn’t feel like I had that connection, even though I went to all school events, was around, etc. Luckily, I got the advice to start setting individual dates/outings with each of my children. At these dates, we would do whatever they wanted, not just inviting them to what I thought would be fun. And I started driving them around to their stuff, even if sometimes it drives me crazy. I have come to understand that “quality time is a myth, because there’s no switch to turn on closeness.”

An older friend told me recently that he thought that we’re never as close with our children as when we just listen to them, without judgment. Caroline recently wrote about family and it got me thinking about how our work fits into that vision. A large part of my efforts to improve my relationships is to be more open in my relationships and all my communications. And my training in estate planning is a large part of that.

The estate planning coaches I use wrote about 4 ways that they claim estate planning can improve relationships with your loved ones. They claim that not only do we “experience a huge sense of relief and peace,” knowing we have put a comprehensive plan in place, but that “estate planning also has the potential to enhance your relationship with loved ones in some major ways.” They say

the [estate planning] process can be the ultimate forum for heartfelt communication and prioritizing what matters most in life. Indeed, communicating clearly about what you want to happen in the event of your incapacity or death (and asking your loved ones what they want to happen) can foster a deeper bond and sense of intimacy than just about anything else you can do.

Who doesn’t want that? So let’s look at the claims and see if estate planning can improve the relationships we cherish most:

1) It shows you sincerely care

Taking the time and effort to carefully plan for what will happen to you in the event of your incapacity or when you die is a genuine demonstration of your love. It would be far easier to do nothing and simply let you family and friends figure it out for themselves. After all, you won’t be around to deal with any of the fallout.

Planning in advance, though, shows that you truly care about the welfare of your loved ones, even when you’re no longer around to benefit from their love and companionship.

Some people truly don’t want to be bothered about what will happen to their families after they’re gone. Perversely, there are some who relish the thought of their loved ones fighting over their assets when they are gone (as if they were fighting over them). And some can’t or won’t face the prospect of being incapacitated, and what that would mean for the people who care for them. My father used to say “I won’t be a burden, just put me out in a small boat so I can sail off.” As if that was some type of realistic plan. But that’s not us – and it’s not you if you’re reading this.

2) It inspires honest communication about difficult issues

Sitting down and having an honest discussion about life’s most taboo subjects—incapacity and death—is almost certain to bring you and your loved ones closer. By forcing you to face mortality together, planning has a way of highlighting what’s really important in life—and what’s not.

In fact, the estate planning process can help you feel more connected with the people you love the most. And planning helps clarify for many people the lives they want to live during the short time we have here on earth.

Both of these things have certainly happened for me. While these discussions can be uncomfortable, I think our relationships benefit from being open about our feelings and intentions.

3) It builds a deep sense of trust and respect

Whether it’s the individuals you name as your children’s legal guardians or those you nominate to handle your own end-of-life care, estate planning shows your loved ones just how much you trust and admire them. . . .

Though it’s often challenging to verbally express how much you love your family and friends, estate planning demonstrates your affection in a truly tangible way.

I think this is a beautiful sentiment. Sometimes the guardians chosen may not want the responsibility – and make no mistake, it is a great responsibility. But in those cases, it is better to know beforehand.

4) It creates a lasting legacy

Estate planning is primarily viewed as a way to pass on your financial wealth and property. However, it can offer your loved ones much more than just financial security. When done right, it lets you hand down the most precious assets of all—your life stories, lessons, and values.

In fact, the wisdom and experience you’ve gained during your lifetime are among the most treasured gifts you can give.

When it comes to legacy, I believe that the examples we set speak louder than any words we can say. There’s no substitute for creating memories. My family is lucky to have members in it who have put in a lot of effort to put together letters and memory books. Caroline often creates photo books for family members as gifts. However, I also wish I had recordings of my parents, my brother, and other loved ones who have passed.

So we have developed a service to help pass on our legacy. With this service, we guide you to create a recording in which you share your most insightful memories and experiences.

The heart of the matter
We can help guide and support you in having these intimate discussions with your loved ones. Planning can enrich your family and friends with far more than just material wealth.

With our help, estate planning doesn’t have to be a dreary affair. When done right, it’s more about putting your life and relationships in clearer focus. Ultimately planning can be a tremendously uplifting experience for everyone involved. Contact us today to learn more.

If you haven’t seen it, the beautiful, aching, nostalgic Don Draper Carousel pitch: