If the past few years have taught us anything, it is that if you put something off for too long, you may not have the chance to do it in the future. Many people are heeding that advice these days by changing jobs, getting divorced and buying homes.
It is no different with estate planning. Clients who had put off estate planning came out in droves during the pandemic, and to my surprise the trend has not slowed down. There are, however, some clients who simply cannot stay focused enough to finalize their estate plan. They will begin the process but then trail off. Sometimes they start again in a few years. Sometimes not. Often, they are overwhelmed by the decisions. They may be single and have no one to name to make important decisions for them. Or, they may think they do not have enough assets for an estate plan. Ultimately, many people simply do not want to think about their own mortality. Who does really?
I remember the mother and daughter who came to meet with me for the mother’s estate planning. The daughter kept saying, “if my mother dies” this will happen or “if my mother dies” that will happen. Finally, the mother looked at her and said, “when I die, dear, WHEN I die.” That stuck with me. Death is an inevitability and this mother wanted to prepare her adult child for her eventual death. It’s not easy, but it is better than being unprepared.
As estate planners, we try to make this process as simple as possible for clients, breaking down complex issues into morsels they can understand and digest at their own speed. We can offer guidance and listen to their concerns about how their family will carry on when they are gone, but we cannot make them put pen to paper and execute the documents.
How many times have you heard someone say, “we never expected him to die.” I remember a widow telling me that she never thought her obese husband who had a heart condition would die. Was it wishful thinking on her part, or perhaps life without him was just too painful to contemplate? We all have limited time. To quote the movie Fight Club, “This is your life and it’s ending one second at a time.” I find my clients who accept this inevitability and plan accordingly are liberated by it. Completing their estate planning allows them to move past it.
If I could give one piece of advice to my clients, it is this. Do your estate planning when you are in good health and can devote the necessary time and energy to it. Every now and then I meet with someone who has always meant to get around to creating a will, but never did. Now he has been diagnosed with a life changing illness and is contemplating these issues for the first time. My heart aches for these clients. This is the beginning of a difficult journey for them that will hopefully end well, but it often does not.
The gift you should make to yourself and the important people in your life this year is to finally get to your estate plan. As Simone de Beauvoir said, “Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future. Act now, without delay.”