Just as it's fun during the holidays to open presents and see what unexpected treasures may lie inside, it's also fun to look over survey results. They often offer some unexpected findings. I saw such a survey recently. It was conducted by the folks at Nationwide Financial and addresses topics nobody likes to talk about. 

Here are some findings that weren't so surprising: Among the topics that people are often loath to discuss, sex came in first. Also spanning all age groups was the No. 2 topic, not having enough money. It may not be so surprising, but think about it -- a high percentage of people share the worry of not having enough money, yet they would rather not talk about it. Estate planning, another critical financial topic, also was avoided -- by 14% of those aged 43 to 61 and 12% of those who are 62 and older.

It gets worse -- and surprising. According to the survey, almost 10% of people would rather have a colonoscopy than discuss estate planning.


It's not so bad
Estate planning might sound painful, but it's an important thing to address. Did you know that probate can eat up 2% to 5% or more of your estate? If you've amassed a nest egg of $600,000 that you want to pass on to your children, $30,000 or more of it could go to probate, when it doesn't have to. (Probate can take up to two years or longer to settle, too. One year is not uncommon at all.)

So consider sucking it up and dealing with it. If you put in a few weeks reading up on the topic, talking with experts, and getting your ducks in a row, you can then rest assured that you've spared your loved ones many headaches, not to mention lots of dollars, too. (Oh, and by the way -- probate is a public process, so your financial life, including what you left to whom, will be on the record.)

You can avoid probate or at least lessen its impact and otherwise get your ducks in a row by doing some of the following:

  • Make sure you have a will.
  • Ask for "Transfer on Death" (TOD) paperwork at your bank or brokerage. With TOD accounts, assets are handed over on your death to your designated beneficiaries. Doing so bypasses probate.
  • Make sure you've got beneficiaries listed for other financial accounts, too, such as insurance policies and retirement accounts. (Make sure they're up to date, too -- you might have listed a sibling long ago whom you no longer speak with.)
  • Look into whether a trust makes sense for you in your situation. Trusts come in many forms and can protect your assets from government fingers and snooping eyes. While you're at it, make a list of all of your financial accounts and details for your loved ones, telling them where to find the information they'll eventually need -- give them or your lawyer a copy of this. Also consider detailing your last wishes for your funeral, burial, etc., so that there will be less guessing and hand-wringing later.

Learn more
For retirement guidance, I refer most often to Robert Brokamp's Rule Your Retirement newsletter service. You can, and should, try it for free for an entire month. Doing so will give you access to all the past issues, which feature plenty of estate planning advice, along with stock and mutual fund recommendations, and even a host of "Success Stories" profiling the strategies of people who retired early. A free trial will cost you nothing, there's no obligation to subscribe, and I'm sure you'll like what you see.

You can learn more here:

Invest smart, too
Be smart about your investments for your golden years, too. Otherwise, you might set up all your investment accounts to flow smoothly to your children, only to leave them with performance laggards. One large-cap fund that Robert has suggested, Third Avenue Value (TAVFX), sports a five-year average annual return of 20% and a dividend yield of 5%. Its top holdings recently included Posco (NYSE:PKX), Legg Mason (NYSE:LM), and Bank of New York (NYSE:BK). You can do very well with a simple index fund, too, such as the Vanguard 500 Index (VFINX), averaging 12.5% over five years and holding companies, such as General Electric (NYSE:GE), Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO), Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), and Altria (NYSE:MO).

So take a deep breath and begin talking about your financial situation with your loved ones. Tend to your estate planning -- once you set things up, it won't need much maintenance. And since you may even prefer to do so, get a colonoscopy while you're at it, too -- that can end up buying you more time to tend to your finances!

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of General Electric. Posco is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Intel and Legg Mason are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Third Avenue Value is a Motley Fool Champion Funds recommendation. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.