I’d like to say that it’s a recent phenomenon, but I’m writing today about a trend that I’ve noticed throughout my career. Truth be told, I’d be naïve to think that this trend doesn’t predate my practice by decades, if not centuries. What am I talking about exactly? I’m talking about the propensity of much of society to hesitate (if not complete avoid) writing a will. Both in my practice and my everyday life, I regularly hear from people who recognize and wholeheartedly admit that they should put a will in place, but despite their best intentions, there’s simply a wall up that seemingly prevents them from taking that final step to do so. Why is that? What keeps us from doing what we should do to protect our family?
FALLACY ONE: I DON’T NEED ONE
One of the primary reasons that people avoid preparing a will is they don’t think they need one. If truth be told, there are some limited instances when a person truly doesn’t need one. That, however, is the exception to the rule. Individuals need to understand one very simple thing. If you pass away without a will, it falls on the court to decide not only how your belongings are distributed, but also who will be responsible for raising your minor children after you pass. If you’re okay with that, then you can skip to the next section. If, however, you want your last wishes to be known and honored, I highly recommend doing the right thing by your loved ones and prepare a will.
Even if you don’t think that you have assets enough to warrant the necessity of one, if you’ve got minor children, I would pose this question to you. How could you not want to ensure that you have provided for their future well-being by making known who you want to raise them? I can guarantee that the individuals you would choose are not necessarily those the court would choose in your stead. That issue aside, however, you should understand that having a will in place really does make it easier on those you’ve left behind to handle your estate. Your loved ones will have enough to deal with when you pass; shouldn’t you do what you can to ease their burden.
FALLACY TWO: IT’S EXPENSIVE AND COMPLICATED
While no two estates are alike, it’s typically not an expensive proposition to have at least a basic will prepared. Can it become expensive? Certainly, but the reality is that not everyone requires a complicated estate plan or a living trust. For the average person, it will be money well-spent to retain counsel to assist you with the preparation of a last will. Not only will it provide you with peace of mind knowing that everything has been set in place and done properly, the nominal investment that you make now to ensure your wishes are carried out could save your estate considerable money down the road after you pass if matters aren’t otherwise set in place.
FEAR OF DEATH AND OUR OWN MORTALITY
In my experience, the final driving factor which deters many individuals from preparing a will is that they don’t
want to face their own mortality. It’s hardly a bad reason, and I can’t necessarily fault them. Many people feel that if and when they do memorialize their last wishes that they’ll be tempting fate or inviting something terrible to befall them. While this is intellectually an irrational and unfounded fear, it’s hard to minimize the psychological impact which results from being made to ponder your last wishes.
There is no easy answer to this quandary. Without diminishing the very real distress that many people face when forced to think about their last wishes let alone talk through with their attorney and/or spouse, I would offer this bit of advice: Get over it. I hate saying that, and I certainly don’t intend to be rude, but you have no choice. You need only consider what’s at stake after you pass to truly understand that reality. Do you really want the court to make critical decisions for you as far as who raises your children or where your assets go? I’d wager that the answer is probably no. I’m not saying it will necessarily be a comfortable conversation to have, and you might even disagree with your spouse about your final plans, but given the alternatives, is a little bit of discomfort really worth the potential chaos that you could leave your family in should you choose not to have that conversation and take action?
It will probably come as no surprise, but I’ll conclude this article simply by saying that I believe each of us has an obligation to those we love to do everything we can to ease the transition process once we pass away. Those obligations include writing a will and making our final wishes known. If you haven’t already done so, I would urge you to write one for not only your own sake, but, more importantly, for the sake of those you hold most dear. They are the ones after all who will be left to pick up the pieces.