Not only is January the first month of a new year, it is also a time when many celebrate Hunt for Happiness Week (January 16-22, 2022). Happiness is something that humanity, in large part, has spent a tremendous amount of effort pursuing throughout history. Early on, happiness likely came from simple victories such as having a full belly, surviving another day, or simply staying warm. Over time, with the progress of civilization, happiness may have come from more complex sources such as art and literature, family and romantic relationships, religious worship, access to a wider variety of food and drink, education, and novel experiences. For many people, a lifetime is spent accumulating wealth in the effort to find happiness. But does the mere accumulation of wealth guarantee happiness? It depends on who you ask, of course. But most people will agree that happiness can be found from a variety of sources beyond total dollars reflected on a balance sheet.
When it comes to your clients finding happiness for themselves and their loved ones, consider how their estate planning might play a role in that process. The following steps can help ensure that the effort your clients put into their estate planning will contribute to their happiness and their family’s happiness rather than potentially diminish it.
Rather than simply assuming that property or cash will bring continuing happiness to your client and then their family when they are gone, it is important to think about how their money and property can be used to generate happiness. Here are some examples:
Is there a hobby that they and their families enjoy that they could more easily engage in as a result of the availability of money? Perhaps they have enjoyed hunting or fishing trips with their loved ones over the years. Maybe they have a love of live theater or musical performances that has brought them joy over the years as they have shared such experiences with their family.
Whatever experiences or activities have brought your client and their loved ones happiness throughout their lives, the first step is to identify them and determine whether your client wants to make such experiences or activities a priority in their own estate planning.
Once you have identified your client’s priorities, you should help them review their important estate documents, such as life insurance and retirement account beneficiary designations, wills, trusts, pay-on-death designations on accounts, and the deeds and titles on their property. Does your client understand how their accounts and property will be transferred or paid out when they die? If so, will the resulting payments and transfers realistically support the client’s priorities that you have helped them identify in Step 1? Or does their current estate plan risk allowing their accounts and property to be used or spent on things other than your client’s priorities? If so, is your client comfortable with that potential result?
If your client is not comfortable with the way their current plan meets their priorities, then it is crucial that they do not delay in addressing these issues with their entire professional advisor team, including their attorney, CPA, and financial planner. As your client’s attorney, we can help them craft provisions in their will or living trust that will set aside a sum of money to fund education for successive generations, travel, hunting trips, family reunions, or other experiences that create happy memories the client would like to pass on. Further, in order for your client to protect their property from being squandered on material possessions or expenses that bring little happiness to their loved ones, your client may need to change beneficiary designations on life insurance, retirement accounts, or cash accounts to be payable to a trust, or make other protective arrangements that can help them achieve their priorities.
It is only with careful planning that your clients can turn something as mundane and inanimate as money and property into experiences and opportunities that can bring true and lasting happiness to them and their loved ones for generations. With proper planning using the tools at our disposal, a team of professional advisors can help your clients effectively meet this worthwhile goal. Such efforts will undoubtedly increase the likelihood that your clients and their loved ones will find the happiness and satisfaction in life that are readily available to those who diligently seek it.