We get calls every day from unfortunate individuals whose relatives died intestate, or who can’t access a family property due to poorly executed legal documents. The transfer of assets from one generation to another is rife for potential disaster, yet statistics show that nearly 2/3 of Americans don’t have any estate planning in place. The numbers are even higher for millennials: 78% of Americans aged 18-36 have no will. There are some serious roadblocks at play here.
Many things can get in the way of estate planning. Aside from the obvious roadblocks of time and money, many people are reluctant to discuss their deaths, don’t think they need an estate plan, or are waiting for family dynamics to settle before beginning the process. Here are some common roadblocks and tips to overcome them and get going on a plan that will provide peace of mind for you and your loved ones.
Lack of Urgency
No one expects to die tomorrow, so unless they’ve received exceptionally bad news from their doctor, most people figure there’ll be plenty of time to set up their estate plans. For many people, this may be true, but is it really a risk you’re willing to take? Too many people fall into the trap of believing that if they are active and healthy, they will live for decades more and can do their estate plan once they retire. While death might not be imminent for most of us, the risk of a car accident, sports accident, or brain injury are just as high, if not higher, for a healthy, active person than they are for a retiree. Plus, if you live on the edge, it’s not you who’ll face the consequences of failing to plan. It’s your family.
Difficult Family Dynamics
This can be a particularly difficult roadblock to overcome. We have seen the entire range of family dynamics, from close-knit extended families who talk every day and vacation together, to estranged families who would not attend the funeral of a deceased relative even if they were paid to go. No matter what your family situation, your estate plan can be customized to ensure your wishes are carried out. For families who have a child with a mental condition or addictive behavior, there are provisions that can protect your assets while providing a way for that child to improve their situation and receive the help they need. Every family is different, and every estate plan should be, too.
A good estate plan requires good communication and careful planning. So it is reasonable to expect that your attorney will spend a significant amount of time getting to know you and your values, family situation, and concerns. Hiring a trained professional to guide you through the process will obviously cost more than an online Do-It-Yourself will, but it’s worth it to make sure it’s done correctly. See Dan’s blog post on buying a “Value Meal” estate plan for a good perspective on this.
Estate Planning Fatigue
The changes in tax laws over the last couple of administrations has left some clients reluctant to revisit their plans. We hear our clients ask, “So once this is signed, I’m all done, right?” If you changed your plan after the laws changed, or had some family dynamics change, you may feel that it’s too much hassle to invest the time and money in something that is going to change yet again in the near future. To overcome this roadblock, think to yourself whether you would have that same attitude towards changing safety laws, or advances in medicine. It wouldn’t make any sense to complain that you had to go back to your doctor to adjust your medication; surely you would prefer a medication that more directly treated your symptoms and had fewer side effects? Or imagine complaining that your financial advisor wanted you to stop investing in a declining portfolio and instead invest in one that was growing. Surely you’d want to maximize your potential for growth?
Many people are under the misapprehension that estate planning is a one-and-done activity, but this is only true for people who write an estate plan and die immediately. Those of us who continue living tend to also continue purchasing or selling major assets, having children or grandchildren, moving from one state to another, and in other ways changing our circumstances in ways that enhance our lives. It’s a bad idea to expect your estate plan to cover all future scenarios. Such a document would be unwieldy anyway! And while some foresight is a good idea, none of us can truly predict how Congress plans to adjust tax laws in 15 years or whether one of your children will be widowed and remarried in 5 years.
Fear of Making the Wrong Decision
We get it. These aren’t easy decisions to make, and the more complicated your family or financial situation, the more complex your plan needs to be. Many of us don’t want to think about someone else caring for our children, but we need to contemplate that exact scenario if we are to choose good guardians for them. Others are stymied by the thought of their own death, or the death of their spouse. This is a particularly acute problem for many women, who on average live longer than their spouses and may have experienced a loss of retirement income due to taking time off to raise a family. Others may not have been involved in the finances for many years and are overwhelmed with information and choices. Of course, having a professional to advise you and provide perspective on some of these decisions is an invaluable asset.
Remember that perfectionism can be a roadblock in and of itself. If the fear of making the wrong decision keeps you from creating a plan, think about the dangers and cost of not having a plan at all. Above all, find someone you can trust to advise you properly on these important decisions.
Not Knowing Where to Turn
These days it seems there are almost too many options out there. You can search online and find dozens of sites that claim to provide a “customized” will for less than $200. Even if you decide to hire an attorney, prices and processes can vary so widely that it may feel impossible to know who you can trust. One way to get past this roadblock is to seek out some positive stories about people’s experiences with their attorneys. We know that there is a certain, shall we say, “reputation” surrounding our profession! That’s ok. We’re confident that we stand out from the crowd with our dedication to our clients and insistence on accompanying them through every step of the estate planning process. Come talk to our attorneys and see for yourself that we are here for you.
The best way to overcome a roadblock is simply to keep moving forward. Go around, under, over, whatever it takes! Just don’t let fear or wrong ideas keep you from doing something so important. Give us a call today.