Category

Estate Planning

The 5 Most Important Estate Planning Documents

By | 1-19 Precare, Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

There’s no getting around the fact that estate planning is a necessary part of life, even though we may not feel ready to face it. It is especially important that older Americans begin this important part of planning. Five documents typically make up the estate planning lineup: Financial Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, Living Will, Will, and Living Trust.

According to a recent study, fewer than 42% of American adults have a will. In fact, we’ve seen a number of high profile people die without a will in place. Both Prince and Aretha Franklin fall into this category. Because they each died without a will, their families could be embroiled in court for years when a simple document might have prevented any confusion.

But you can get started now. It’s not too late, and it’s never too early. Let’s take a moment to review the 5 important estate planning documents, what they are, and why they are important.

Financial Power of Attorney

Definition

With a financial power of attorney, you grant an agent – often a spouse, adult child, or trusted friend – the ability to conduct financial transactions on your behalf. This means that the agent can access bank accounts, pay bills, obtain loans, and perform other financial acts on your behalf.

Main Benefit

It is beneficial to have another person who can help you with financial needs, especially for the elderly and those who are suffering from memory loss. On the other hand, even if you are young, a power of attorney can be helpful if you are juggling a large amount of financial transactions.

Cost of Inaction

If you become incapacitated, it may be difficult for your loved ones to take care of your financial affairs. They will likely have to petition the courts for permission to conduct your affairs. This means time and money lost.

Medical Power of Attorney

Definition

Similar to a financial power of attorney, the medical power of attorney grants your appointed agent the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf. Your agent’s powers will work in tandem with your living will (discussed below), if you have one. Also, make sure to sign a HIPAA release form. This document allows your appointed agent access to health, care, and treatment information.

Main Benefit

If you become incapacitated, a trusted individual can make decisions regarding your medical needs, and if you take time to share your medical or end-of-life care wishes, that person can ensure that your desires are followed.

Cost of Inaction

If you do become incapacitated, your family will be left with the burden of decision making, not knowing whether their choices align with your wishes or not. This lack of clarity can cause disagreements and strain among family members.

Before we move on…

Two final notes regarding powers of attorney

You can set up either document to be general or limited. With a general power of attorney, your appointed agent has full access. They can operate as if they are you. With a limited power of attorney, you restrict their access to certain functions.

Also, you can designate whether a power of attorney is durable. This means that it remains in effect even if you become incapacitated. In some states, “springing” is an option. This means that you can specify when the powers of attorney are in effect. Perhaps, they come into effect on a certain date or if you become incapacitated.

Living Will

Definition

Whether you set up a medical power of attorney or not, it’s good practice to complete a living will. Despite what its name may imply, a living will pertains to your medical care. The document clearly outlines which medical treatments you would and would not like to be used to keep you alive. The list is extensive and addresses topics like resuscitation, dialysis, palliative care, and organ donation. As you make decisions regarding your future medical care, discuss your wishes with your doctor and family members.

You can change your medical directives at any time, but make sure that you dispose of all copies of the old directives.

Main Benefit

Peace of mind for you and your family. If your desires are written down, you know that your wishes are known, and your family can be confident in any choices they (or your medical power of attorney agent) need to make regarding your care.

Cost of Inaction

Without a living will, your care preferences may not be known, especially in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself.

Legal Will

Definition

A will is a legal document that provides instruction for the distribution of your assets. After death, a will is considered public record once it has been registered with the probate court. In general, a will is a simple document that identifies beneficiaries, names guardians for minor children, appoints an executor to the will and/or a property manager, and leaves instructions on how to pay for debts and taxes. A will can be revised at any time.

Main Benefit

You ensure that your family knows your wishes regarding the distribution of your estate.

Cost of Inaction

Without a will, your assets may not be distributed as you would desire. Also, in many cases, family members must go to court to determine the fate of your estate.

Revocable Living Trust

Definition

Though most people need a will, not everyone needs a living trust. Living trusts are a bit more complicated than wills in that you transfer your property into the trust. Once the property is transferred, you become the trustee (naming a successor trustee to take over upon your death). The successor trustee then distributes your assets according to your wishes. A living trust is most beneficial to those who own a large amount of property and assets. A living trust can also be revised at any time.

Main Benefit

Most people choose a living trust because it avoids the possible complications of probate court. Additionally, a living trust is more difficult to attack in a court battle and is kept private (no public record).

Cost of Inaction

If you have a large estate, the lack of a living trust may make the distribution process lengthier and more complicated.  Again, not everyone will need a living trust. Speak to an estate planning attorney to determine if this route is best for you.

One more note: a living trust does not take the place of a will. There are a number of things you cannot do in a living trust, namely appointing guardians for minor children, designating an executor, and assigning a property manager (if property must be maintained until a minor child comes of age).

Now you know which documents are important to the estate planning process. As you work toward getting your affairs in order, you might also consider a few other areas of advance planning: funeral planning, getting all your important documents together, designating emergency contacts, and taking care of your digital estate. It’s never too early to start!

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary, so any estate planning should only be undertaken with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state. 

Myth vs. Fact: The Truth About Final Expense Plans

By | Estate Planning, Explore Options, Plan Ahead

Paying for a funeral in advance doesn’t have to be a difficult task. All you really need is a knowledgeable funeral professional who thoughtfully educates you on all the options available and the differences between them. With an informed partner, making a decision that works best for you and your budget should be much easier.

There are four common ways to pay for funeral expenses. They are: 1) with a life insurance policy, 2) with a final expense policy, 3) with a prepaid funeral plan, and 4) with personal funds. For more information about using a life insurance policy for end-of-life needs, take a moment to read The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses to review the pros and cons.

For now, let’s focus on final expense policies and prepaid funeral plans. Important note: a prepaid funeral plan is funded by an annuity, a trust, or an insurance policy. While many use life insurance for funeral expenses, its primary purpose is to replace any income lost by the death of a loved one. On the other hand, most people choose final expense policies and prepaid funeral plans specifically to help offset end-of-life expenses.

Let’s Start Off with Definitions

Final Expense Insurance

Final expense insurance is a type of insurance that covers funeral expenses and/or outstanding bills after death. In terms of insurance, the coverage offered is relatively low, proportionate to the expense of your desired funeral and whatever amount a family may need to cover outstanding bills at the time of death. Final expense policies are usually easier to qualify for than traditional life insurance, and typically, the older you are, the higher your monthly premium will be. With this type of insurance, you usually pay a premium every month until your death, at which time the policy benefits go to your named beneficiary. However, keep in mind that your named beneficiary is not technically (or legally) required to use your final expense funds to pay for funeral or medical expenses.

Prepaid Funeral Plan

Prepaid funeral plans typically offer greater protection. Typically, you will meet with a funeral planning professional to itemize a prearranged funeral contract, including all your desired services and merchandise, and fund the contract using a prepaid funeral insurance policy, annuity, or trust. You may choose to make a prepaid funeral plan revocable or irrevocable. With an “irrevocable” policy, you waive your right to cancel the plan, which offers an added benefit if you need to qualify for Medicaid to cover nursing home expenses at a later date.

Myth vs. Fact

Final expense plans are often touted as the best solution when planning ahead for funeral expenses. However, prepaid funeral plans offer several advantages over final expense plans:

1. Asset Protection for Medicaid

Properly structured prepaid funeral plans can be set up as exempt assets for Medicaid so that those funds are protected from going to the nursing home. On the other hand, under Medicaid rules, a final expense plan qualifies as a limited asset (not exempt). Additionally, the capped amount is usually $1,500—not nearly enough to cover a dignified funeral or cremation service.

2. Plan Is Paid in Full

You can pay for a prepaid funeral plan in full in one lump sum or set up for a specific number of payments. Once you’ve finished paying the total amount of premiums, the plan is considered paid in full. This is a huge benefit considering that many seniors live on a fixed income later in life. Meanwhile, most people with final expense policies must pay premiums throughout their lifetime.

3. Protection from Inflation

Prepaid funeral plans grow over time by design. The growth protects the value of your dollar and helps your funds keep up with inflation. On the other hand, final expense plans do not generally grow over time, meaning that they lose value every year due to decreasing purchasing power.

4. Stay Within a Budget

The amount you pay toward a prepaid funeral plan is directly related to the choices you make regarding your final wishes. So, if you choose cremation with memorial service, the costs associated are itemized, put into a written plan, and your payments set. In the end, you control the cost of the funeral. With final expense insurance, you select an estimated amount that you believe will be enough to cover a funeral. Additionally, in the long run, a prepaid funeral plan is less expensive. While your monthly payments may be a bit higher, you will only make a set number of installment payments. With final expense plans, you will pay monthly premiums for the rest of your life.

5. Plans are Portable

Some people think that final expense plans are more convenient because you can use them at any funeral home. The same is true of prepaid funeral plans. Widely accepted as a method of payment, prepaid plans are transferable to other funeral homes. Moving away or changing your mind are two reasons why you might transfer your plan.

6. When Funds Are Available

Funds from a prepaid funeral plan are typically available within 24-48 hours of submitting your claim. Your family will be able to move forward with payment and funeral arrangements almost immediately. With final expense insurance, it can take up to six to eight weeks to process a claim.

7 Steps to Telling Your Children About Your Funeral Plans

By | Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

You’ve made an important decision. By preplanning your funeral, you are giving your family a great gift: an expression of your great love and the gift of a mind at peace, knowing that everything has been taken care of. However, as important as your funeral plans are, it’s even more important that you share your funeral wishes with your loved ones and invite them into the preplanning process. During a time of loss, families are often stressed and may end up “emotionally overspending.” By telling them your plans ahead of time, you can save them stress and money.

Ideally, it’s best to have this conversation when you are in good health. Whether you have the conversation in person or over the phone, it’s important to prepare yourself. Children may be very uncomfortable discussing your mortality. They may try to brush the topic aside or protest that they will take care of everything; however, tell them firmly but kindly that you have specific wishes that you want them to know.

Here are seven steps to telling your children about your funeral plans:

1. Start off by talking about your health.

If you are in good health, reassure your children that everything is fine and that you are just thinking ahead. Perhaps mention that you’d rather have this discussion now than when you are ill. On the other hand, if you are already fighting an illness, let them know that you are thinking about them. Explain that you wanted to do this because you love them.

2. Acknowledge that the conversation isn’t easy.

Let them know that you don’t take this conversation lightly. Share with them how you have thoughtfully considered the best way to share this information.

3. Share why you preplanned your funeral.

Highlight the reasons why you decided to preplan your funeral. Perhaps you wanted to ease some of the decision-making burdens they will feel when the time comes. Or, you wanted to have some sense of control over what your final disposition will be. It could also be that you want to save money and pay for the funeral costs over time rather than have the burden fall on your children.

4. Present your plan.

Make sure that you’ve written a fairly comprehensive plan before you share it with your family. Your children may have ideas that are different from yours, and you need to know which elements are non-negotiable so that you can stand your ground, if necessary. Don’t feel the need to expound on every small detail of the plan. Just make sure that they each know where to find it when the need arises.

5. Ask them if there is anything specific they’d like to contribute.

The funeral is for the living, after all. Check in with them to see if they have any creative ideas they would like to share. Thoughtfully consider how those ideas fit into your plan. You might want to look into resources such as the Talk of a Lifetime website to find ideas on what to discuss.

6. Answer their questions.

It’s natural for children to have questions. Listen to what’s on their hearts and minds, and be willing to change a few things on your funeral plan. If their responses seem negative, try to understand the fear that is motivating them, and address that fear directly.

7. Reassure them about your motivation.

As your conversation draws to a close, let your children know how much you love them. Reiterate that you have created a plan that you hope will bring them peace and comfort when you cannot physically be with them. If they disagree with each other on what their preferences are for your funeral, let them know you are just settling things for them ahead of time!

As you end the discussion, assure everyone that this is an ongoing conversation. If they have questions or concerns later, you are open to discussing this topic as much as they would like.

None of us knows what the future holds. But we do know one thing: none of us are promised tomorrow. The future is uncertain. We can make a difference in the lives of our loved ones by planning ahead and sharing those plans with them.

Even if they aren’t too wild about hearing that you’ve made funeral plans, in the end, they will be grateful that you are thinking ahead. On one of the most difficult days of their lives, the day they lose you, they can rest easier, knowing that all the big decisions have been made already.

Now that your funeral plans have been taken care of, consider taking the next step: getting all of your affairs in order. The more you can take care of now, the better it will be for your children in the future.

6 Things Your Emergency Contacts Need to Know

By | 1-19 Precare, Estate Planning, Plan Ahead
Why do we have emergency contacts? Ultimately, it’s because we will all need—at one point or another—a trustworthy person to represent us if we are incapable of doing so ourselves. In most cases, emergency contacts are a loved one such as a parent, spouse, adult child, or trusted friend.
If possible, it’s best to have at least TWO emergency contacts. This way, they will be able to work together or, if one is unavailable, the other can take charge. It’s best to select a person(s) who will follow through with your wishes, even if they don’t personally agree with what you’ve decided. Once you have selected your emergency contacts, it’s time to have a conversation about your wishes. Too often, emergency contacts are unprepared for the tasks they face, or they are left with a mess to unravel. You can take a little time now to make things easier in the future.

Conversation Tips

  • Set up a time to sit down with each emergency contact individually or bring them together at the same time.
  • Select a quiet, private place so that you can share freely.
  • Share your reasons for getting your affairs in order.
  • Tell them where you keep your important documents, and if you’ve completed a funeral plan, give them a copy.
  • Listen to any concerns they may have and answer questions.

The Six Things That Your Emergency Contacts Need to Know

1. The Location of Your Legal Documents and Insurance Policies

Your emergency contacts need to know where to find important documents like your legal will, birth and marriage certificates, deeds, titles, insurance policies, powers of attorney documents, health care directives, funeral planning documents, and records of creditors as well as assets, including digital assets and passwords. If you don’t have a legal will, consider creating one, and be sure to regularly review your insurance policies and update your beneficiary information. Also, if needed, consider whether it is appropriate to give your emergency contacts power of attorney (medical and/or financial). This way they can handle your financial matters in case you are unable to do so. If you have questions, make an appointment with an attorney to review these legal matters.

2. The Terms of Your Will and Trusts

Be sure to go over your will with your emergency contacts. This includes your wishes for the distribution of your assets, heirlooms, furniture, and keepsakes. To ensure that your wishes are honored, include as many of your assets in the will as possible. It is possible that you will appoint one of your emergency contacts as the executor of your will. Be sure to let your executor know the contents of your will so there are no surprises. If there are any belongings or assets that are not directly addressed in the will, be sure to cover your wishes with at least two of your emergency contacts, and put your wishes in writing. Additionally, you may also wish to set up trusts for your children or grandchildren with certain terms. Consider appointing one of your emergency contacts as trustee and discuss the terms of those trusts.

3. Your Wishes for Medical Care

Have you made your medical wishes known through an advance care directive? Have you given your emergency contacts medical power of attorney? These documents will protect you in case you are incapacitated and/or unable to make medical decisions for yourself. Be sure to talk to whomever you’ve appointed as your medical power of attorney about your wishes for medical treatment and life-saving measures.

4. Allergies and Blood Type

If you have allergies to foods or medications, your emergency contacts should know so that they can alert medical professionals if you are unable to do so. It is also a good idea to provide your emergency contacts with a record of your blood type in case of emergency.

5. The Care of Your Dependents and Pets

Be sure that you have made provision for the care of your dependents should anything happen to you as the primary caregiver. The same is true for your pets. Let your emergency contacts know who you name as guardian and how you would like any insurance policy benefits, 401(k) funds, or other assets to be set up after your death to provide financially for your children. If you have a family member or friend who is willing to care for your pets, be sure to contact that person to let them know your wishes.

6. Your Funeral Wishes and Plans

One way we can love and protect those we will leave behind is to put together a healing and meaningful funeral plan. The best way to do this is with a licensed funeral director at the funeral home of your choice. The funeral director can educate you about your options so you can make decisions that are good for you and your loved ones. Your local funeral director or advance planning specialist will ensure that your plan is practical, legal, within your budget, and ultimately, healthy for your grieving family. Be sure to give your emergency contacts a copy of your funeral plans and keep a copy on file at the funeral home of your choice.

IMPORTANT: After prearranging your funeral, it is very important to share your plans with your emergency contacts. If you don’t, you run the risk that your family will never learn about your plans and may do something you didn’t request. Not knowing your wishes, they may spend more money than you would have preferred. On top of that, if you’ve purchased burial insurance to pay for your funeral in advance and your emergency contacts don’t know about it, they may pay for the funeral out of their own pocket (when you have already paid for the funeral in full). If this happens, the amount you’ve already paid toward your funeral may go unclaimed. If the insurance company is unable to reach your family, the funds will go to the state’s unclaimed property office. While the state will continue to try to contact your family, this may take years and is subject to state laws. To avoid this possibility, it’s best to share your plans.

Address Your Loved Ones’ Concerns

Depending on who your emergency contacts are, they may express some concern when you discuss your funeral plans. Some of the most common reactions include:

  1. Alarm. Any discussion about funerals can lead to feelings of alarm because the other person may wonder if you are okay, if something is wrong. Prepare to discuss your health situation with them. The most important thing is to be truthful.
  2. Denial. Funerals are a subject most people would rather avoid. So, children may say, “Don’t worry about it. We will take care of this later. Let’s not talk about it now.” Listen to their concerns, but keep in mind that denial is not an effective strategy. The fact is, we are all going to die someday. The most loving thing we can do is take care of as much as possible in advance.
  3. Disagreement. You may encounter some opposition to your plans if your emergency contacts are people who are very close to you. They may have ideas of their own on the topic. You will need to review your plans and determine if anything is up for debate or not.
  4. Confusion. Some of your loved ones may not understand or trust a prepaid funeral plan. Many of their fears can be addressed with a basic understanding of consumer protection laws, cost guarantees you may have received from the funeral home, and Medicaid asset protection. If they still are unsure about your plans, feel free to contact your local funeral director or an estate planning attorney who can answer their questions.

Keep Your Documents Safe and Accessible

Lastly, put all of your important documents in a safe place. Make sure that your emergency contacts know where to find them. If you decide to keep your documents in a safe, share the combination with your emergency contacts. Some people may choose to use a safety deposit box. If you do so, coordinate with the bank to ensure that your emergency contacts have access to it, if needed. As an alternative, you might consider purchasing a watertight, fire-proof, easily transportable container. This way, your documents are safe and transportable if an unexpected event occurs.

For a complete list of information your emergency contacts need to know, download this helpful checklist: What Your Emergency Contacts Should Know. By gathering all these documents, you are taking the first steps to getting your affairs in order. Depending on how far along you are in this process, it may take some time to get all of this information organized. Be sure to consult trusted professionals, such as an estate planning attorney and your local funeral director, as needed. In the end, you will be glad you did!

The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses

By | Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

It’s not uncommon for families to expect to pay for a funeral with life insurance benefits.

Sounds like a simple plan, doesn’t it?

The truth is, there can be many unexpected complications with life insurance policies. Some are no longer valid because no one has paid on them in years, and they have now lapsed. Some have beneficiaries named who are no longer living, which means delays and complications with getting your claim paid. The policy may have a lien on it. Or, the date of death or cause of death could limit the death benefit. Listing an ex-spouse or a minor as beneficiary is also a very common issue. In some states, an ex-spouse listed as a beneficiary will receive nothing unless the divorce decree specifically states that they should. More delays and complications. Any of these “red flags” could prevent you from using your policy for funeral expenses. Even if your policy is problem free, it may take 6 to 8 weeks to receive payment.

Additionally, have you carefully considered the amount of your life insurance policy? Aside from funeral expenses, what else do you want your loved ones to be able to pay for? Is your life insurance beneficiary a co-signer on your credit card bills, and therefore, liable to pay them? Would you want to pay off the mortgage on your home so your surviving spouse can stay there? Or, pay off vehicles or other large items? If your family members rely on your income, will they have enough to cover basic expenses until your income can be replaced? If you incur high medical bills before you pass away, they will be paid for by your estate (assets). Is your insurance policy amount enough to fill the potential loss in your estate’s worth? If you have not considered these secondary expenses, your family may have a hard time covering all the potential costs.

So, a simple plan isn’t so simple anymore.

Here are a few solutions that may help avoid complications with life insurance at the time of death:

Review Your Policies.

If you plan to use life insurance benefits to cover your funeral, check the policy and make sure it is still valid. If you have any questions, contact an elder law attorney. They will help identify any “red flags” in your policies and assist you in correcting them. Or, if you are in the midst of planning a funeral for a lost loved one, you can direct your questions to the funeral home. Please contact your life insurance company for specific questions about your policy.

Make Sure the Policy is Assignable.

When you review your policy, make sure it is “assignable.” You must be able to assign the benefits to go to a third party who will file the claim for you (the funeral home, or an assignment company). The type of policy you signed up for and the life insurance company determine whether a policy is assignable. Funeral homes generally accept a life insurance policy in lieu of payment for a funeral, though it’s best not to assume that they will. Remember, if they do accept a policy as payment, it must be assignable. Retirement benefits and 401(k) benefits are not assignable. If the policy is not assignable, families will be unable to use life insurance to cover funeral costs. This is in large part because insurance companies can take at least 6 to 8 weeks to process a claim. Typically, this is long after the funeral has taken place.

Use an Advance Funding Company.

Some funeral homes partner with advance funding companies (also called an assignment company). Similar to a tax return advance you might get from your tax preparer, advance funding is an advance on your life insurance policy benefits. In short, an assignment company contacts the insurance company and verifies that the policy has not lapsed and has no other issues. Funds are advanced within 24-48 hours once the verification process is complete. The best part is, your claim is filed for you, and any funds in excess of funeral expenses can be advanced right to you. The assignment company will deduct a small fee to cover administrative costs.

If you are interested in finding out more about assignment companies, one reputable assignment service company is CLAIMCHECK. Take a few moments to look at the website. Think about whether an assignment company is an option you’d like to pursue. If it is, contact the funeral homes in your area to find out if they partner with an assignment company. Please note, you must go through the funeral home in order to use an assignment company. This option may not be available in your area, so ask the funeral home for their best solutions. They are knowledgeable and will have helpful suggestions for you.

Take Care of Any Issues Before Death Occurs.

It’s hard to deal with the financial assets of a lost loved one. If there is no clear heir, the courts will likely probate the estate. When an estate is probated, it means that the court system must approve the validity of a last will and testament and confirm the appointment of the executor. This process can sometimes be lengthy and incur additional costs. You will make it much easier for your heirs to inherit your assets according to your wishes if you create a will and update the beneficiary information on your policies regularly.

Preplan Your Funeral.

Another way you can help your loved ones is by planning the details of your funeral in advance. This actually helps your family save money because they know your wishes. When family members are grieving, it can be hard for them to make decisions. Sometimes there is a tendency to overspend because people want “only the best” for Mom or Dad. But buying with this mentality leaves less money in the proverbial pot. Will there be enough for living expenses, debt repayment, and maybe even college for the kids? A prepaid funeral plan offers several surprising benefits above and beyond what a simple life insurance policy can do. See the chart below for a few of the benefits of a prepaid funeral plan.

Though it is sometimes a challenge, the funeral home will work with families to discover solutions for funeral payment. Sometimes a death comes quickly and unexpectedly, and people are not always prepared for such a great expense. Determine your plan before tragedy strikes. By doing so, you can relieve your loved ones of money worries on one of the worst days of their lives.

Building a Legacy

By | Estate Planning, Living Well, Plan Ahead

Making a Difference

We all want to leave our fingerprints on the world. When we reflect on our mortality, we inevitably find ourselves wondering how we want to be remembered and what we want to accomplish before passing away. In such times, we often find that the things that occupy our time are trivial and unsatisfying. Acknowledging the reality that we will die allows us to put things in perspective and to focus our energies on the things that are really important.

When you pass away, how do you want people to remember you? What are you passionate about? Answering these questions will help you to make your life a model for those you leave behind.  Each of us has a unique opportunity to create a legacy that will inspire people. Here are some tips for building a legacy that will make a difference in the lives of others.

Identify the things that are most important to you

Before you start to build your legacy, spend some time in reflection so that you know what direction to take off in. As respected author James Cabell once said, “While it is well enough to leave footprints on the sands of time, it is even more important to make sure that they point in a commendable direction.” Determine your direction. What do you care the most about? What are your strongest beliefs and convictions? You may want to make a list of the values that mean the most to you.

Consider the avenues for communicating these values

Once you have these values laid out, you can begin thinking about how you want to achieve them and communicate them to others. Now’s the time to start planning some personal projects. You may want to write a book about something that is important to you or a letter that contains life lessons that you have discovered. You may decide to get active in community service or donate to charities that you find meaningful. Invest time or money in causes that you really want to support. By taking action and investing in the things that you care about, you inspire others to do the same.

Ask how your decisions could potentially impact others

When considering what projects to invest in, try to envision how your different options could affect people. While it is obviously impossible to predict with absolute certainty how your actions will be interpreted after you are gone, putting some real thought into the end results of your actions is beneficial. On close examination, you may see that some of your projects are more practical and more beneficial than others. Since the activities that you engage in represent an important part of who you are, make sure that you are spending your time in the best possible ways.

Live your legacy in everyday life

In the rush to create an inspiring and exciting legacy, it can be tempting to let ourselves be consumed by big projects. But it’s also important to remember the small things: a kind word, a smile, an opportunity to laugh. Stop periodically to evaluate your intentions. Building a legacy is a great way to inspire others, but don’t let your desire to be remembered turn into an obsession that keeps you from living out your values. People will remember you for the way that you lived your life daily, for the small ways in which you embodied your values and treated others.

Learn from your loved ones

There’s no inspiration like that which comes from the people that you love. If you are trying to live your life as an example for others to follow, you may want some help from those you trust the most. Talk to your family and close friends to get feedback. Your loved ones know you better than anyone, and they can give you some ideas regarding the activities that could contribute to your legacy. If you don’t want to talk openly about your legacy, that’s also fair. But be sure to listen to those around you. They can inspire you without even knowing it. Paying attention to the people who motivate you will remind you of what is important as you work to build a meaningful legacy.

Living Better: Positive Psychology and Health

By | Estate Planning, Living Well, Plan Ahead

Positive Thinking

Want to feel younger and healthier? Being happy may help. Studies suggest that positive thinking can significantly improve physical and mental health. It’s not always easy to view the glass as half full, but with practice and persistence, you can cultivate a state of mind that will make you more appreciative of the good in life and more accepting of the bad.

The Happiness Placebo

What do you think of when you hear the term “placebo effect?” To many people, this term only has a negative connotation. While the word “placebo” may initially conjure up images of hypochondria and controversial medications, the phenomenon of placebo is actually rather useful. Many people have found that they can become happy simply by believing that they can be happy.

By working hard to obtain a mindset of happiness, you put yourself in a better position to face life’s challenges and to potentially live a longer, fuller life.  While there is currently no way to prove causation as opposed to mere correlation, studies suggest that people who feel young may actually live longer, and that optimism may contribute to feeling young. And the obvious role that happiness plays in reducing stress, which has negative health effects, lends credence to this theory.

Acceptance

What does it mean to be happy? Most people don’t find happiness in a stable job, a large paycheck or even the fulfillment of their biggest goals. Instead, the greatest factor that determines happiness is acceptance: the ability to be content with your current situation. Maybe you don’t have as much in retirement savings as you would like. Maybe you never got to work at your dream job. Or you’re experiencing more physical pain than you did when you were younger. While all of these things are genuinely frustrating, they aren’t necessarily problems that happy people are immune to.

Happy people learn to live in the moment and accept the present situation as the only possible one. Statements that begin with “If only…” or “I wish” don’t often emerge from the happy person’s tongue. Learning to accept the negative parts of life is key to obtaining happiness. This mindset is conducive to better health and a more meaningful, enjoyable life.

Gratitude

Acceptance is the ability to deal with the negative events of life. The flip side of acceptance is gratitude, the ability to highlight the positive events. Studies suggest that practicing gratitude can strengthen the brain, improve sleep, and reduce pain. In fact, doing an activity as simple as making a daily list of what you are thankful for could significantly increase your quality of life. People who are appreciative of life’s gifts, whether those gifts be big or small, have a greater chance of being happy.

Choosing Thoughts Wisely

The human brain is selective. It chooses what information to process and what information to shrug off, what is worth thinking about and what is worth letting go of. By employing both acceptance and gratitude, you place a greater influence on the positive experiences than the negative, and cultivate a mindset that can lead to greater health and better quality of life. Learning to master your thoughts and steer clear of negativity will help you to view the world through a healthier lens.

Getting the Most Out of Life

Of course, there are many things that lead to a greater quality of life. We know that eating well, exercising regularly, and avoiding destructive habits are good for our well-being. But if you don’t train your brain to be accepting of your situation and appreciative of what you have, and if you don’t truly believe that you can be happy, then these healthy habits can only do so much to give you a meaningful life. Happiness isn’t an emotion that hits you at random. Rather, it is a state of mind that can be obtained through practice and intentionality. By practicing positive thinking, you allow yourself to get so much more out of life.