Procrastination routinely appears at the top of the list in studies and polls that attempt to explain why individuals fail to execute their Will. We're all guilty of being lazy on at least one front. The frequency of this catchall response, however, hardly means that the same individuals wish to die without ever executing a Will. In fact, if most folks had their way, they would avoid intestacy and leave their property to the individual(s) of their choosing. Instead, the procrastination response tends to shed more light on personal priorities, and where estate planning ranks among them. We tend to put off the issues that we can worry about tomorrow, and the real problem arises when we run out of those tomorrows.
Many individuals believe that good estate planning is really only for the wealthy. Absolutely false. Dying with no assets is harder than it sounds. Dying without debt is becoming even harder. Even simple estate planning, once in place, makes potentially rough roads smoother. One could argue that the most modest estates could benefit the most from good estate planning, as the intended beneficiaries are likely in need of all the assistance and efficiency that can be afforded them.
Property Passes Automatically to Our Family
Texas has a default system of descent and distribution, just like every other state. And, yes, the default heirs of a decedent are certainly "family." But the script written for every citizen by the legislature may not match the model in everyone's mind. "Family" to the State of Texas may not be "family" as you know them. And nothing happens automatically in terms of probate. Transferring even modestly-valued property requires invoking at least some sort of probate process.
Estate Consists Only of Non-Probate or Jointly-Held Property
Today more than ever, estates consist primarily of assets that traditionally pass outside of probate. Life insurance policies, retirement plans and certain jointly-held bank accounts may pass by way of a beneficiary designation. But these wonderful tools that estate planning lawyers use to complement estate plans are hardly a substitute for the whole thing. For example, these arrangements do nothing to nominate an individual to handle any other affairs, including the payment of debts, prosecution of legal claims or collection of assets that you forgot to attach a beneficiary to. Belt and suspender plans might sound silly, but they sure do keep your pants up.
Nobody Likes to Contemplate Their Own Mortality
Nobody likes to consider their own mortality. Nonetheless, death is as inevitable today as it always has been. It's going to happen, and responsible individuals can either plan for the future that exists beyond them, or approach it with their heads in the sand. The good news is that estate planning doesn't move you any nearer to death or incapacity -- it merely puts in place a plan for events that are inevitable. Sound estate planning need not be a morbid affair, but instead can be an excellent way to craft your legacy while you still have the ability to celebrate the lives you touch daily.
The State Will Distribute it for Me
There is no truth to this concept in any form. Sure enough, if nothing is ever done, your property may indeed go unclaimed, revert to the State and sit. But the government has little to no interest in seeing that your property makes its way to those that you would see have it.
Lawyers Cannot be Trusted
Many lawyers perpetuate the stigma so often associated with our profession -- that we are untrustworthy scoundrels so bent on lining our own pockets that we would stop at nothing to do so. As a result, and particularly in estate planning, many individuals seek out do-it-yourself arrangements. Make no mistake that these plans are often ill-conceived and even worse-executed. I tend to exaggerate when I compare do-it-yourself lawyering with do-it-yourself surgery. Obviously, one has a far greater impact on our life and health than the other. But expertise, knowledge and the confidence that they impart are learned, not purchased. Find a professional that you trust as much as yourself, and get things done right.
Wills are too Expensive
What would you pay for peace of mind and the confidence that your intentions are carried out at a time when you cannot carry them out yourself? Surely, there are professionals whose price tag on these items might be too high. But the estate planning market, and more importantly those that provide services within it, grows every day. The relative cost of planning to the size of the estate and the importance of a secure plan is more likely decreasing than rising. Shop around and find a good deal that you trust. The cost of dealing with a poor plan or no plan at all vastly outweighs the cost of preparing a competent plan that works.