Estate planning principles, part 1: Having the uncomfortable talk about death and dealing with other emotional blocks surrounding estate planning

Estate planning principles, part 1: Having the uncomfortable talk about death and dealing with other emotional blocks surrounding estate planning

– Chanelle Taylor (Director, Cornerstone Financial Planning)

Do you break out in a cold sweat when discussing your will? Can’t bear to think about whether there will be enough money to live on if your spouse dies?  Perhaps you get physically sick when having to decide which child will run the business when you die…

These are the natural responses to the infamous and constantly avoided talk about death.

Granted, most people would agree that estate planning isn’t something one casually brings up at a family braai. It’s way too morbid and then there’s always the evading phrase “we’ll deal with it when the time is right…”

At Cornerstone Fiduciary Services, we believe the right time is today and that breaking the taboo stereotype of talking about death is long overdue. After all, death is as unavoidable as being born or growing old. There is no logical reason to have such a negative connotation to one of life’s most natural and inevitable journeys.

However, logic and emotions rarely go hand in hand and in this new exclusive series, we will explore the principles of estate planning and it’s many levels, to show you that estate planning is not only vital to your financial wellness, it’s a crucial part of the legacy you leave behind. Let’s kick off part one by adressing the many emotional obstacles you might face on the journey of estate planning…

The “D ” word

The first hurdle to be overcome is facing your own mortality. If you are a successful giant in the corporate world or you have built your business from the ground up, it may be hard to accept that after all the hard work and countless challenges you faced and overcame, death is something you simply cannot beat.

A good way to start is to find your own euphemism for death, then use that expression when addressing your passing. Most people will say anything rather than “when I die.”

There’s a wide selection of substitutions for the “D” word including “pass on,” “kick the bucket,” “meet my maker,” “when something happens to me,” or “six feet under”.

Pick your favourite and go with it. This should make taking about death and your estate plan much more open and comfortable.

Giving up control

The next obstacle is the fear of giving up control. There is a perception that estate planning involves giving away everything you’ve worked for and with that relinquish all control – a bitter pill to swallow for most people and almost impossible for successful business owners or career enthusiasts.

Ironically, having an estate plan doesn’t involve giving up control, it actually gives you more control over your assets and your life. A well-developed estate plan will ensure that your assets and legacy is managed the way YOU want, by the people YOU choose and is divided among the people YOU love. Remember, estate planning doesn’t mean giving your assets away or implying that you can be easily forgotten, in fact it’s the opposite.

Family Ties

Tough family decisions are another emotional stumbling block. Is there a divorce looming for one of your children? Does one of the grandchildren have special needs? Will you or your spouse remarry? Who is going to control the family business? What about blended families – the children are yours, mine and ours. Do all of them share equally in both Mom’s and Dad’s estates?

Facing these issues can be so painful that they are often avoided indefinitely, and a real mess is left behind. Avoiding the problem doesn’t make it go away and although facing tough decisions like these is hard, a qualified estate planning specialist can help you by giving you the right advice and present you with all your options. The alternative is having someone else, possible a complete stranger, make these decisions for you after you are dead…

The cost

Fear of the expense is another thing that keeps people from estate planning, but let’s face it. Estate planning is not for you – it’s for those you leave behind. You aren’t going to be hurt by estate taxes or unresolved claims against the estate. You won’t to have to negotiate who gets the house – family rivalry and feuds will have to take care of that in the absence of a final will and testament.

Is it fair to leave the ones you loved most in such a state of confusion and panic, just because it was “too expensive”? We don’t think so either.

Imagine an estate plan as the ultimate gift, the gift to trump all other gifts. If you buy a gift for a really special person, you put a lot of time and emotional energy on getting it perfect, right? Why should an estate plan be any different? Leaving a well-designed plan behind is the best gift you can give your family and it deserves your time, money and effort.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask about the fees and costs – in fact, it would be unwise not to. Some estate planning is done by the hour, or sometimes on a flat fee basis but usually an estimate can’t be given until the estate planner has all the facts. Almost no one gets a “simple will”, especially not people who own multiple assets or companies. There is so much more to an estate plan than just a will, and every situation is different.

If you have any questions about estate planning, legacy planning or wills, regardless of the nature, remember to contact Cornerstone Fiduciary Services today by calling 011 794 6611 or email We are totally independent and over decades and countless clients, we have perfected estate planning – even the very complicated ones. Also, don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for more informative and useful content.

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