No one wants to think about what life will be like after they’re gone. Due to the conversations surrounding mortality, estate planning can be both uncomfortable and stressful.
According to Jim Goldsmith, partner and chair of the trusts and estates group at Ulmer & Berne in Cleveland, and Howard Slater, principal and partner at Cedar Brook Group in Mayfield Heights, facing one’s mortality is one of the most common reasons estate planning is steeped in stress.
“There are several factors, but the biggest one is that it makes people think about their mortality and life, and that can be stressful for people depending on their age,” Slater said. “Wherever they are in life, that is not usually top of mind. But with the pandemic, it has brought certain timeliness to the issue as it affected people of all ages so quickly, so we were forced to face the unimaginable. We don’t like doing that if we can avoid it. So, until we have that near-death experience, you self-reflect and think about what you need to do to avoid that. Part of it is human nature to avoid doom and gloom conversations.”
Goldsmith mirrored the sentiment, saying that mortality stress can come from either the older generation for who the plan is being made for or the younger generation who will be the beneficiaries in the future and adding it is not “a fun topic.”
Some aspects of estate planning can be more stressful than others, but that depends on each person.
“Each person has their hot buttons for stress in planning situations,” Goldsmith noted. “Some find it stressful to share their financial information with others, some find it stressful to talk about death or incapacity due to other family issues from the past. There can be all sorts of reasons.”
Goldsmith added the same could be said for areas of comfort in estate planning.
“Each person has their comfort zones too,” he explained. “I had one experience that after reviewing with potential clients the issues they needed to think about, they went home and called me back several weeks later thanking me for the meeting and telling me that addressing the issues made them jointly decide to end their marriage. Now, that’s stress.”
In his experience, Slater said many estate owners don’t experience the brunt of the stress themselves. Those who are on the receiving end, the beneficiaries, tend to be the more stressed party.
“Somewhat ironically, the person who passes away has no stress,” he said. “The next generation absorbs all that stress for the lack of planning the deceased might have not done. While someone alive might not want to face mortality issues and thinking about who is going to get what and when, there can be a huge avoidance factor. Ultimately, when a parent that hasn’t done any planning passes and the family is uninformed about what they have, that is where the stress comes in. Especially if it is a sudden loss.”
Avoiding stress comes down to just a few things – namely clear communication and at the very least, some prior planning.
“Everyone has an estate in some manner, so just start the plans and recognize that doing it is really empowering,” Slater said. “Just develop a plan and don’t avoid it. Dealing with the mortality issue in your mind, knowing it is an empowering process is helpful. It’s about having control of the future of what is important to you and putting the right strategies in place, both legal and financial, that allow those wishes to happen without issue.”
Goldsmith said using an experienced estate planner can also help curb stress levels. He said he does this by remaining calm with his clients during the planning process.
“Always remain calm when talking to the client and don’t try to show how smart you are by using terms that the client won’t necessarily understand,” he noted. “Recognize that while you may deal with the topics at hand all of the time, our clients do not. Be understanding and spend sufficient time with your clients to allow them to work through the issue. If they feel rushed, it will only create more stress.”