Adaptive Estates

Key Takeaways

  • Big life changes involve both technical challenges and adaptive challenges.
  • Change becomes harder as you get older.
  • With estate planning, you don’t want to pass along just your money, but also the values that go along with it.

I attended another wake recently. In our business, it goes with the territory, and we have lost many dear clients over the years. You get used to seeing people going through the early grieving process. You know what they’ll be going through in the weeks, months and years ahead, but very often they don’t. Sometimes it’s OK and sometimes it’s pretty awful.

Often the biggest issues come up because many families are not acting as proactively as they should about their estate and personal legacies. That’s why I want to talk about adaptive challenges and adaptive change. Wyatt Woodsmall, a neurolinguistic programming (NLP) master, said that change involves two important things: technical challenges and adaptive challenges.

How does this work with estate plans? The technical challenges are the wills, trusts, advanced directives and beneficiary designations—what happens to your assets after you die.

Estate planning also should address adaptive challenges—taking things from your past and moving forward. Some things you leave in the past, some you bring along with you, and then other things you build upon going forward. It’s about looking at the human costs, your tolerance for change, the pace of adjustments, the uncertainty you face and many other things.

When you’re reviewing your estate plan, having all your documents ready is great, but that’s a small part of the picture. The documents don’t cover the impact of your estate and your legacy on your family, your favorite charities, your business entities and everything else that’s important to you.

Andrew Carnegie understood the importance of legacy. He was a ruthless 19th-century industrialist and one of the wealthiest men of his time. But he devoted the last 30 years of his life to philanthropy, including the construction of thousands of Carnegie libraries. That’s what Carnegie is remembered for—not his cold-hearted business practices.

You may not have Carnegie’s wealth, but consider your legacy when putting together your estate plan. All too often someone passes away and family members say, “Gee, I didn’t know they had so much money” or “Gee, I thought they had a lot more money” or “Why is so-and-so the trustee and not me?” They may also wonder why y business partners inherited more wealth than they did, or why Cousin Sue (and not them) inherited a piece of family property they thought had been sold.

Unfortunately, these types of scenarios play out all the time. Feelings get hurt and children resent the fact that their parents didn’t communicate with them on all levels. Ultimately, heirs don’t remember the money as much as the feelings of confusion or even betrayal. Why? Because only the technical challenges were addressed and the hard work of adaptive change was left alone.

Change is hard for many people, and it gets harder as you get older. That’s why NLP specialists say you need to recognize things from your past while building your future. When it comes to estate planning, you don’t want to pass along just your money, but also the values that go along with it.

For more on the topic of change, see my prior blog post about Embracing Behavioral Change. Until next time, enjoy.

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