Last week, my eldest son came to me with an excuse about why he couldn't complete his homework. I chuckled to myself as he spoke. Not because of the incomplete assignment. But because his excuse reminded me of some conversation I have with clients.
Let me explain:
My work is my passion. I love helping people. But many people tend not to think about the consequences of inappropriate planning.
That's my job.
Some clients come up with outlandish and sometimes funny excuses for why they've failed to plan their estate.
Here are five of the most common excuses I hear:
1. We are not done having kids yet.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that they can’t or shouldn’t create a Will until their family is complete.
This misconception is not only incorrect but can have disastrous consequences.
Without a Will, you are leaving your children unprotected. They need a plan in place should the unthinkable occur. It is not uncommon for families to have a spread of 5 plus years between the births of their first and last children.
If you have a child, you need a Will, period.
There is no need to list each child by name in your Will. Doing so is only a matter of personal preference. For those who wish to do so, it can be accomplished with a codicil (that's lawyer speak for addendum).
Did you know you don't even need to have kids to have a Will that provides for them?
I encourage couples who do not have children yet to draft their Wills with any future children in mind. Doing so takes the pressure off new parents. If for any reason children don’t end up in the picture, no harm done, it’s a few extra sentences in your Will.
2. We are going to move one day.
Many people put off creating a Will because they plan to move at some point in the future. I see this with many of my clients who are renting in New York City but who see a house in the suburbs in their 3-5 year plan. That suburban dream house may be in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut.
The assumption is that if they do move to a different state, their New York Will won’t be valid anymore. A Will that was validly executed (that means signed under oath and witnessed) in one state will be honored by every other state.
Imagine the chaos that would ensue if it weren’t? So, you do not need to re-do your Will because you end up in Fairfield County not Westchester County.
3. I don’t own any property.
First, this is almost NEVER true. You don’t need to own a four bedroom colonial full of antiques and family heirlooms on a sprawling 4 acres to have an “estate” worth planning for.
If you own property you owe it to your family and friends to put some thought into how you would like that property distributed after you're gone.
Second, and even more importantly, owning property is not the only reason to have a Will. As discussed above in No.1, if you have children you need a Will which designated a Guardian. This is the ONLY way to ensure that your wishes about who should care for your children are followed.
4. We can’t agree on guardianship.
The vast majority of my clients who finally come to me after years of procrastination blame their delay on the issue of guardianship.
I get it. This is a biggie.
(1) can’t agree on who to choose as their Guardian (i.e., she hates his sister….he hates her parents),
(2) believe they have nobody they can ask to serve as their Guardian
(3) worry that their Guardian is too old…or not financially secure
(4) are concerned that selecting their Guardian will mean hurting someone’s feelings
Or (and this is a huge deal)
(5) can’t even discuss topic without fighting or crying.
The first thing I tell them is they are NOT alone. Very few of my clients walk into my office 100% certain about their choice for Guardian. Many have not even been able to have a productive conversation about it before our meeting. Couples rarely agree from the outset.
The good news is that I've been doing this for a long time. Over the past fifteen years, I've heard it ALL. I've always been able to help my clients. Even when they struggle to come up with a choice that everyone can feel comfortable with.
The two best pieces of advice I give them are:
(1) NO choice is going to feel good because it’s not you
(2) make the best choice for next week NOT next year.
If next week your Mom is the right choice but your worried that she may not be up to the task five years from now, your Mom should be your Guardian.
When and if things change, which they will, we can make simple changes a fraction of the cost and time.
5. I’m going to live forever.
Obviously, this is the most ridiculous of all the reasons. News Flash….you’re going to die, we all are. Nobody likes to think about let alone talk about and plan for the eventuality of their own demise. Its human nature. It’s not fun!
I promise you’ll feel better once it’s done!
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