Estate Planning for Procrastinators, Part 1

September 24, 2009
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“Procrastination is the chronic postponement of necessary tasks – generally those considered difficult or unpleasant.  We waste so much time trying to avoid these tasks that our failure in doing them is assured.” – Eric G. Matlin.

Most sensible people understand that it’s important to have an estate plan to protect their family. Yet, it is estimated that 7 out of every 10 Americans die without a will.  What is going on?

My guess is that most people just don’t want to face the issue of their own mortality.  (And really, who does?)  They also don’t want to deal with the legal complications and the decisions to be made.  And then there is the legal terminology that can be off-putting: Probate, executor, irrevocable trusts, etc.  If ever there was a task that engendered procrastination, estate planning is certainly right up there.

And if all of that isn’t enough to give you pause, were you aware that estate tax laws will be changing in the near future?  Why do anything at all now, when better information will be available next year?

Now, I am not a lawyer, so I cannot in any way provide legal advice or documentation for estate planning.  However, as a Financial Advisor, I can help alleviate the anxiety, frustration, fear and loathing that may be causing you to avoid the estate planning that you know you should do.  It is said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but not if it leads to further questions of an estate planning expert.

Let’s start with the realization that even if you have never actually signed a written last will and testament, you still have one.  How is this possible?  Simply put, if you don’t have a will, your state will provide one for you.  And most certainly, you (and your heirs) will not like the results imposed on you.

Without a will, there will be unnecessary delays in settling your estate, not to mention increased costs, all of which will come out of the money you’d have otherwise left to your family.  Court costs will be increased, as will family aggravation.  Without a will, your estate can be decimated by legal fees and/or additional taxes.

That is a summary of Chapter 1 of The Procrastinator’s Guide to Wills and Estate Planning by Eric G. Matlin.  I highly recommend you read this book, because not only does it explain complex matters in plain English, but it also deals head-on with the issue of procrastination.  The top 12 list of the most common reasons that people delay estate planning makes for interesting reading.  Counting down, the author tops the list with “Most people don’t like to think about death or money” and ends with “Guilt feeds upon itself.” 

Procrastinators of the world, “You are not alone.”

According to Matlin, many people avoid using attorneys, but “hiring an estate planning attorney isn’t like hiring most lawyers.  Usually an attorney is hired when it’s necessary to go to court.  Estate planning attorneys are hired, at least in part, to keep your family out of court.  And while any dealing with an attorney is likely to cost you money, the odds are good that in estate planning attorney will, in the end, save you more in taxes and probate costs then she charged as a fee – possibly much more.”

Matlin’s use of questionnaires, tables and forms help you get organized enough to prepare for a visit to an attorney.  And it encourages you to create an action plan by giving you the confidence that you can make good decisions.

Understand, though, that nothing you read in a book will replace the knowledge and expertise of an experienced attorney who specializes in estate planning.

Nevertheless, you have to start someplace, and understanding the lingo will make your journey much easier.  Accordingly, Part 2 will cover estate planning terminology.

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