There are things in life we need to do, but we often struggle to do them. It's not that we question their importance, we just keep...putting them off. Everyone procrastinates at some time or other, even when the task is an essential one, with negative consequences for failing to complete it, like filing taxes. Another thing on which people frequently procrastinate, although they shouldn't, is making an estate plan.
Almost everyone understands that they need an estate plan; why do so many people put it off? There are many reasons, but they fall into a few categories. The first is the lack of a deadline. Unlike income taxes, estate planning doesn't have a known time by which it must be completed, and many people are driven by deadlines. When you have a dozen things that absolutely must get done by tomorrow, it's easy to push the task of estate planning off to another day. Unfortunately for many people, they run out of days before they ever sit down with a lawyer to secure their family's future.
Another reason many people procrastinate on the creation of their estate plan is that they simply don't know what to do, and not knowing what to do next leads to inaction. Do you need a will or a trust, or both? If a trust, what kind? And how do I choose the right lawyer to help? It can seem like a lot to figure out, and many people, consciously or unconsciously, decide to figure it out "later." Once again, "later" often turns into "too late."
People also procrastinate because although they've been told a task is important to complete, they haven't really "bought in;" they don't feel the urgency themselves. Often, what finally spurs someone to make an estate plan is the unexpected death of someone close to them, and the realization that it could happen to them, too.
This blog post isn't intended to shame you about procrastinating on your estate plan. Instead, this post is intended to help you break out of the procrastination trap and accomplish what you need to, so you can relax with peace of mind.
Let's address that last reason for procrastinating first. You might not realize why it's so important to make an estate plan if you think estate planning is about stuff. You won't be here to enjoy your possessions, you reason, so why does it matter who they go to?
If you don't have an estate plan, you will, in legal terms, die intestate. That means Michigan, or the state in which you reside at the time of your death, will divide your assets according to state law, to closest relatives first. This may or may not be how you would want it. In any case, your estate will have to go through probate, which could be avoided or limited with an estate plan.
Your estate plan is about more than your assets. Many people don't realize that their estate plan can have a profound impact on their own lives.
But your estate plan is about more than your assets. Many people don't realize that their estate plan can have a profound impact on their own lives. In the event you become incapacitated by a sudden accident or illness, or later in life by dementia or other illness, documents in your estate plan can speak for you when you can't speak for yourself. An advance health directive can express your wishes regarding your health care. Powers of attorney authorize people you trust to instantly step in and act on your behalf, taking care of your financial needs and making medical decisions on your behalf.
The best way to break through the procrastination barrier is to take a first step. You don't have to know exactly what you need in terms of an estate plan. You just need to get started. When you do, the next step you need to take will make itself known.
As a first step, call an experienced estate planning attorney and make an appointment. If even that seems overwhelming because you don't know whom to call, make your first step asking a friend or family member for a recommendation.
Just make sure you get in the door of an estate planning attorney's office. Once you have an appointment, don't postpone it. And once you're sitting across from the attorney, you're in good shape. Even if you don't know exactly what your needs are, an experienced estate planning attorney will know the questions to ask to help you figure it out. You don't necessarily even have to hire the first attorney with whom you speak; the important thing is to set the process in motion.
And what you'll likely discover is that your reasons for procrastinating weren't valid. Not only will you be led through the process, so that "not knowing what to do next" doesn't matter, but you will also feel like a burden has been lifted off your shoulders. Making an estate plan may not have seemed urgent before you did it, but once you've done it, you will have a tremendous sense of peace and accomplishment. All you need to do is take the first step.