I think this is something that I’ve known even before I started practicing as an Estate Planning attorney. Matter of fact, it probably predates my practice by decades, if not centuries. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the tendency to hesitate (if not complete avoid) writing a Will. Both in my practice and my everyday life, I hear from people who recognize and admit that they should put a Will in place, but despite their best intentions, they simply don’t do it. Why is that? What keeps us from doing what we know we should do?
In my experience, a major driving factor which deters many people from preparing a Will is that they don’t want to face their own mortality. Or worse yet, I hear them say, “If I write a Will, I’m going to die.” Many people feel that if and when they do memorialize their last wishes, they’ll be tempting fate or inviting something terrible to happen. Personally, I believe that the day you’re going to die is already written somewhere. And whether you write a Will or not, that date is not going to change. While this tempting of fate is intellectually an irrational and unfounded fear, it’s hard to minimize the psychological effect it has on people and stops them cold from even pondering writing their Will.
To people with this mindset, there is no easy answer. Without diminishing the very real distress that many people face when forced to think about their last wishes, I would offer this bit of advice: Get over it. I hate saying that, and I certainly don’t intend to be rude, but you have no choice. You need only consider what’s at stake after you die to truly understand that reality. Do you really want the court to make decisions for you as far as who raises your children or where your assets go or even who gets to control them? Most likely the answer is no. I’m not saying it will be a comfortable conversation, and you might even disagree with your spouse (or children) about your final plans. But given the alternatives, a little bit of discomfort is really worth the potential chaos that you could leave your family in should you choose not to have that conversation and take action.
Another reason I hear when people avoid preparing a Will is that they don’t think they need one. If truth be told, there are some instances when a person truly doesn’t need one. That, however, is the exception to the rule. Everyone needs to understand one very simple thing. If you die without a Will, it falls on the court to decide not only how your assets are distributed, but who gets to distribute them, when they get distributed and who will be responsible for raising your minor children after you die. If you want to have control of all that, you need to prepare and complete a Will.
While no two estates are alike, it’s typically not that expensive to have at least a basic Will prepared, especially considering how expensive it can become if one wasn’t done. The reality is that not everyone requires a complicated estate plan or some type of trust. For the average person, it’s not that expensive and will be money well spent. If nothing else, it will provide you (and the rest of your family) with peace of mind knowing that everything has been set in place and done properly.
Although no one can force anyone to write a Will, I believe each of us has an obligation to those we love to do everything we can to make our final wishes known. If you haven’t already done so, I would urge you to write one for not only your own sake, but, more importantly, for the sake of those you leave behind. They are the ones who will be left to pick up the pieces.