Top Ten (okay Top Twelve) Reasons People Procrastinate and Don’t Do Their Estate Planning

This recent article from Fox Business News caught my eye with a great headline:

The Sad State of Estate Planning: Why Only 34{93997c19cca2413204031df21c26e128a46aabe0f65d6d1b886d87d0d40a7681} Have a Will in Place

The salient statistic is the results of a survey that say that “while 69{93997c19cca2413204031df21c26e128a46aabe0f65d6d1b886d87d0d40a7681} say they’ve seriously considered drafting a will, just 34{93997c19cca2413204031df21c26e128a46aabe0f65d6d1b886d87d0d40a7681} have actually done so.

Digging a little deeper into the numbers reveals that:

More than one in four people who say they’re in charge of handling estate plans admit they’re not doing a good job of preparing for the unexpected. And among those not in charge, half feel it’d be a struggle to get all the necessary documents together.

Now the point of this article, and the point of the survey itself, from everplans, a company that is finding a way to monetize getting your affairs in order, is that it is the lack of “financial know-how” that is preventing the 66{93997c19cca2413204031df21c26e128a46aabe0f65d6d1b886d87d0d40a7681} from moving forward. That might be true, but mostly it reminded me of a presentation I gave back in 2007 entitled The Top Ten (okay Top Twelve) Reasons People Procrastinate and Don’t Do Their Estate Planning. Looking at it now, it seems a little preachy, a little too “tongue-in-cheek” and it definitely delves into areas - psychiatry, depression and anxiety - that I am not qualified to speak on. But I think it may be a useful thing for someone who is asking themselves, why aren’t I doing this? So here it is, from 2007, warts and all.

The Top Ten (okay Top Twelve) Reasons

People Procrastinate and Don’t Do Their Estate Planning


12. Most People Just Don’t like to Think about Death or Money.

Talking to an attorney about wills and trusts forces you to confront mortality and money, two issues that can be difficult to face and hard to discuss. This is particularly true if you are healthy and don’t feel you have much money.

Unfortunately, health is a precarious thing. The tractor trailer on the beltway does not care that you take care of yourself and that your grandfather lived to be 100. Most people also don’t focus on the right issues when they think they don’t have much money. When you die your estate consists not just of the money you really use on a day to day basis, but also your life insurance, the equity in your house, the full value of your retirement plans and everything else you own. That is usually a lot more money than you think you have to deal with.

11. Estate Planning Is Something Most People Are Unfamiliar with or Feel Uncomfortable About.

Because you don’t know much about estate planning documents, you may experience anxiety or struggle with feelings of inadequacy when confronted with the subject. You know how to be a good plumber or schoolteacher or police officer, or how to run a restaurant or business, but you don’t know estate planning.

But just like you go to a professional for anything else, you go to a professional to help you with this. Which is not to say you can’t educate yourself first. Take a course at a local community college or another local venue before seeing an attorney, so you have some background in the material.

10. There’s No Hard-and-fast Deadline.

Many people can’t accomplish anything until a deadline looms. But when it comes to wills and trusts, the crucial and final deadline often comes without warning - i.e. the aforementioned tractor-trailer. The earlier you start the process, the easier it will be and the more options you will have.

9. It’s Not Much Fun.

I think I resent that. Okay, it is true, but life isn’t always fun, especially if you are an adult. If you need fun, plan a party to celebrate finishing your estate plan. As a client once told me - with a pitying glance - I spend my life in meetings with people talking about all of the morbid improbabilities of their lives, and that is true. But I believe the more you plan, the longer you will live.    But no guarantees there.

8. People Hate Lawyers.

Okay, I know I resent this one. It is true the people hate lawyers, but not all people hate all lawyers; you can find one you can relate to. Believe it or not, I have become personal friends with clients who came in dreading having to sit in a room with me for an hour. I am not saying we will be best friends, but the most common (and favorite) phrase I hear after the meeting ends is “Well, that was not as bad as I thought it would be.”

7. People Are Afraid of Massive Amounts of Paper.

If you understand the paperwork, it becomes a little less intimidating. Be prepared to ask questions about anything substantive you don’t understand. Be prepared to keep asking those questions, writing emails and basically forcing your attorney to make sure you understand what will matter to you. Also give up the idea that you will understand everything you are signing. It took me months in law school to understand the Rule Against Perpetuities, and you just have to trust the paragraph I write in your document to waive it.

6. You Won’t Live to See the Largest Benefits of Your Estate Plan.

The main beneficiaries of your Will and other estate transfer planning will be your heirs. It can be difficult to devote yourself to this task until you accept your family’s priorities as your own. BUT every estate plan should also include at least two lifetime documents that can dramatically affect your qualify of life - an Advance Heath Care Directive, naming a Health Care Agent and making advance health care decisions, and a Power of Attorney, naming the person who will take care of your legal and financial issues for you if can’t do it yourself.

5. It Might Mean Making Hard Decisions That Could Arouse Negative Feelings in Loved Ones.

Maybe you’re concerned your family will be angry when they learn the details of your estate plan. Dealing with uncomfortable family situations is one of the main reasons people don’t do their estate planning. But the fact is those problems won’t go away when you die, and by not planning you are just be making them another relative’s problem. There are no new family problems under the sun, and dealing with it head on, and using a professional who has seen these things before, is the best way to make sure the hard decisions are made with a minimum of hard feelings.

4. The Size of the Job Can Be Daunting.

Estate planning can be, but isn’t necessarily, a big, time-consuming task. The perceived enormity of the task can prevent some people from even starting the job. Like any other big job, the best way to start is by taking a single, simple step. Review a questionnaire. Take a course. Read some blogs. Call the attorney.

3. Not Doing Your Estate Planning Can Be a Form of Passive-aggressive Behavior.

If you’re not happy with your future heirs, failing to complete necessary wills or trusts can be a subconscious way to punish them. That said, often heirs will receive more if you don’t do an estate plan then they would have if you do.

2. Some People Just like to Live for the Moment.

Some procrastinators simply can’t—or won’t—force themselves to pass up short-term pleasure and sit down to complete their estate planning, even if at some level they understand that doing so will provide them with far greater long-term satisfaction.

And

1. Guilt Feeds upon Itself.

The real number one excuse for not doing an estate plan, when you know you need one, is the wall built from guilt about not doing estate planning, adding to any depression you might have about procrastination in other areas of your life and leading, ironically, to further delay. If you can’t move from that state, a psychologist or counselor with experience working with procrastinators might help you.

The last two reasons deal with issues I can’t even begin to touch. Do all people who procrastinate about this have depression? Of course not.

Are all people who decide not to deal with this right now selfish. No.

But there is something about not doing your estate planning that is about the avoidance of adult responsibilities. If you are an adult, if you have children, if you have another person that would be impacted by your death or incapacity, you need to deal with what may happen if you are incapacitated and what will happen when you do pass away. If you have a family, avoiding dealing with these issues means passing the buck to someone else to do it after you are gone, and in a way that cannot approach how well it could have been done while you were alive.

Categories: Estate Planning

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Norman Handler started his legal career with the IRS, auditing estate tax returns and, in its National Office, developing estate tax policy. He moved into private practice, first as an associate and later as a partner in a large Montgomery County law… Read More

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Marc S. Levine has been practicing law since 1992, all with Handler & Levine, LLC, and its predecessor firms.  Marc regularly assists individuals and families in preparing their estate plans, including drafting their wills, revocable trusts, tru… Read More

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