Letting Indecision Delay Your Estate Plan

The best reason I ever heard for not seeing an estate planning attorney came from a late client who, upon learning that over half of his estate might be taxed, said, “I don’t mind. The government has a lot of good programs.”  (I responded, “Ok. How can you be sure your money will go to the programs you like?”) I don’t believe, despite his political views, that he really wanted to leave half of his money to the government. I do believe it seemed better than addressing his mortality, though.
Talking and thinking about our own death is stressful, so it’s no wonder many people avoid it, deny it, and don’t want to deal with it.
But what if your reason is simply, “It’s too hard to decide”? No doubt about it, estate planning can involve gut-wrenching decisions, like choosing a potential guardian for your minor children. (Ugh.) Or figuring out what’s “equal” vs. what’s “fair.” Who to include and who to exclude? Which charities will handle a bequest most responsibly? Leave money in a lump sum, or spread it out over time? In-laws, multiple marriages, step-relatives, girlfriends, boyfriends….today’s families are complicated. Perhaps you and your spouse or partner disagree. Or you and your children do. The more you delay, the more the questions, and their unknown answers, multiply. You might want to brush it off, like my client, since you “won’t be around anyway to worry about it.” But until then, it can still eat at you.
A lot of people think they must make all the decisions before they go see the attorney. But when you think about it, estate planning attorneys deal with such decisions all the time. Many of them are actually pretty good at suggesting alternatives you might not have considered. Attorneys are more than just note-takers; they are advisers and advocates. The good ones are smart people who love to come up with creative solutions to legal questions. So when I hear someone can’t decide, I encourage them to make the appointment anyway. Addressing our mortality may not be pleasant, but it’s better than being eaten alive by indecision.

Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch."

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