Having spoken with hundreds of people on the topic of estate planning, I have learned that many people are afraid of the estate planning process for various reasons. We will explore some of those reasons and make some suggestions to let go of the fear, which is quite natural, considering some of the topics involved in estate planning.
Fear of Death: Let’s get the “big one” out of the way. In my opinion, estate planning is not about death, as much as it is about staying in control, and being kind to your loved ones. We all know that everyone dies, and nothing lives forever. By planning ahead, your mortality can no longer limit you. You can be generous, loving, and leave the world better than you found it, no matter when, or how, you die, or become incapacitated. By planning ahead, you get to express your preferences (in general terms, or great detail, it’s up to you), and you avoid leaving a mess for your loved ones to figure out.
Someone recently told me that they hesitated to sign their completed documents because they worried that as soon as they sign and date the papers, they will die. Many attorneys I know feel a bit helpless when the documents are all done, and clients do not show up to get the paperwork signed. Of course, the documents don’t have much effect if they are not signed. It seems silly to pay an attorney to do this important work, and then not finish the job with your own signature, but fear is not a logical thing.
Here’s my suggestion: From the very beginning of your estate planning process, plan a nice reward for yourself upon completion, say six months out. This can be a beautiful vacation, an ice cream sundae, or anything else you would really enjoy. Stay focused on the reward, not the signing, and allow your attorney to be the “guide or “leader” to see you through to the end. Tell your attorney about your fear, and allow this practiced professional to help you through it.
Selecting An Attorney: Selecting the right professional to guide you through an emotional process will take a bit of work, but it is quite worth the effort. If this is the first blog entry of ours which you have seen, do scroll through our other posts, as there are some great suggestions as to how to find and work with an attorney who is right for you. Check out Questions for the Estate Planning Attorney or How to Find the Right Estate Planning Attorney for You
Your Spouse, or Partner, May Not Want What You Want: Whether you have only been married to this person, or this is a second marriage for you, working on an estate plan together can be challenging. If you are not married, estate planning is all the more important because a lot of assumptions are made about the transfer of wealth for married couples. This is not so for those who are co-habitating without any written agreement. Some believe not getting married makes things “easier” until there is a tax, legal, financial, or health crisis. A roommate has a lot less opportunity to be helpful than a named agent or successor in your estate plan.
I knew a couple where the wife really wanted to be sure that both she and her husband would be buried in her family plot, but the husband was very much afraid of being buried without being “entirely dead”. He wanted to be cremated, but also wanted to please his wife. I suggested that where he is concerned, when he dies, we could wait a week, or more, to be sure he was entirely dead before any burial was initiated, and he asked his attorney to add this to his Advance Health Care Directive!
By getting your plan into writing, you have more power than without having a plan. Thanks for getting your plan completed and signed!
Marguerite Lorenz, CTFA, CLPF is a Master Trustee and a Managing Partner at Lorenz Private Trustees (MyTrustee.net) and has served as a Trustee and Executor since 2003.