It is truly unfortunate that most people do not participate in any meaningful estate planning…when they should. Most will readily admit that it is something they need to do, but they keep putting it off. The question is, “Why are most people procrastinating about something so important?”
Here are some of the more common reasons why we procrastinate about estate planning—and some information that just might help get you moving and changing from a procrastinator to a participator.
The first possible reason is that you may feel it is “EXPENSIVE”.
Granted, a lot of people don’t have extra money lying around these days. But not doing anything can end up costing your loved ones much more than it would cost if you just began to plan now. If you own assets in your name and you become incapacitated due to illness or injury, you (your assets and your care) will likely be placed in a court guardianship. This is not free. All costs (attorney fees, accounting fees, court costs, etc.) will be paid from your assets, and your family will probably have to ask the court for an allowance if they need money for living expenses.
This process does not replace probate when you die; your family will still have to go through the court system again, and that means more expenses…and less for your family. Your assets will be distributed according to your state’s laws, which probably won’t be what you would have wanted.
Estate planning does not have to be expensive. My advice is to find a reasonable attorney who can help you get started with some basic documents. Upgrade to a living trust later if you can’t afford it now. You may even be able to pay the attorney over time.
The second reason is that you may feel you do not “OWN ENOUGH”.
Estate planning is not just for the wealthy. In fact, costs for a court guardianship and probate usually take a higher percentage from smaller estates (which can least afford it) than from larger ones. Whatever you do own, you probably would rather see it go to your loved ones than to courts and attorneys.
Third reason? You may feel you are not “OLD ENOUGH”.
Estate planning is not just for “old people.” For some reason, young people think they are going to live forever. The reality is that any of us, at any age, can become incapacitated or die due to an illness, injury, accident or random act of violence. Almost every day we read about someone whose life was cut short or changed dramatically in an instant.
Finally, you simply “MAY NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO”.
Uncertainty, confusion and indecision can be paralyzing. Attorneys are called “counselors at law” for a reason. An experienced estate planning attorney knows what other families have been through, knows what has worked well and what hasn’t. He or she can also help you understand the process and make challenging decisions easier.
Why do we need to do estate planning? To make sure our assets will go to the people we want to have them with the least amount of delay, hassle and expense; to keep our families from having to deal with the courts if we become incapacitated and when we die; to let our families know that we care about them, that we want to provide for them and protect them.
Yes, we do it for those we love. But we get a huge benefit, too…and that’s peace of mind.
Douglas Davenport, J.D. is the Former President and Chief Investment Officer for Atlanta Investment Counsel, LLD, an investment advisory firm. He is also a member of the State Bar of Georgia and the Fiduciary Law section of the state bar.