There are two statements Bay Area estate planning attorneys here regularly; the first is something like, “We’ve been meaning to do this forever…” and the second is, “Having our estate plan in place is like having a huge weight lifted from our shoulders. Most people know they must think about things like wills, trusts, advanced medical directives, etc., but they perpetually put the process off.
This leaves you – and your loved ones – vulnerable. Life is unpredictable, and we rarely know when an accident, unanticipated illness, or incapacity will change everything. Having your estate plan in place is an essential step to making sure you and the people (and treasures) you love the most are taken care of, no matter what the future may bring.
Most People Avoid Estate Planning Because…
After years of creating customized estate plans and providing estate planning advice, we’ve heard every possible reason clients waited as long as they did to see us. The following are the seven most common reasons people avoid estate planning.
They don’t like to think about (or are afraid of) death
Many topics discussed during estate planning sessions require thinking about your death – or a partner’s death – and what happens after that. This isn’t an easy topic. And, some of our clients are very fearful about death, which makes the topic even more difficult to broach.
This reason is much like the ostrich with its head in the sand. Death is inevitable. In our line of work, we’ve found people who can sit with that reality for a bit live higher-quality lives, prioritizing what’s truly important to them each day. In the meantime, they create the space to consider estate planning details, alleviating the burden of the “what ifs…”
“I’ll do that later” syndrome
The other misconception is that everyone will die much later on in their lives and that they have plenty of time to plan for what comes after that. In fact, nobody knows when they’ll die. It only takes a single auto accident to turn a person’s world upside down, render them unable to make decisions or cause a fatal injury at any age.
There is no time like the present to create your first estate plan draft, which should be revisited each year and revised as needed. The older you become, the more likely you won’t have a say in how your estate is distributed, especially if things like a terminal illness or dementia diagnosis happen before you’ve finalized your wishes.
My heirs can deal with it all once I’m gone
We understand the temptation to not think about it and let prospective heirs and beneficiaries deal with it all after you die. However, there are several errors in this way of thinking:
Probate is complicated and expensive
Firstly, there’s no “easy” way to handle an estate when a loved one has died, even if they didn’t have much behind. There are still a range of legal forms that have to be filed. Depending on the value of their estate, the entire thing must move through probate courts, which takes time, money, and energy.
Your estate is at the mercy of intestate succession
If you die without a will, trust, or estate plan in place, your estate is at the mercy of a pre-determined probate process called “intestate succession.” This means the estate is distributed directly to those with the closest biological ties (first and foremost). You have no control over who gets what, and it might be that the person who benefits most is someone you would never have chosen on your own.
It makes your heirs vulnerable
It’s not you who has to go through probate. It’s one of your heirs, which is no fair thing to put on them. It’s costly, time intensive, and very stressful. It frequently causes tension and triggers various family feuds – regardless of whether there were existing relationship strains. No one person should have to take that on. Creating an estate plan is straightforward and makes things far easier for your loved ones who are already coping with the emotional wake of your loss.
Estate plans are for the rich (and we aren’t rich)
Estate plans are for everyone, not just the rich. You have to be wealthy or own property to need an estate plan. Estate plans are customized to the needs of the client. Some are complex, with many layers, and others exist on a single page. The person or family creating the estate plan benefit from invaluable peace of mind.
Regardless of whether you’re rich or poor, you need to have legal instructions regarding:
- Who should make decisions for you if you’re incapacitated (unable to speak for yourself) due to an illness or accident?
- Who you want to raise your minor child(ren) if you die?
- Care for a special needs child or ward.
- Pet care
- Who should receive any heirlooms, prized possessions, or collectibles you may have.
Distributing the value of your bank accounts or owned properties is just one small aspect of estate planning.
They think it’s only about wills or trusts
As the above point references, there is far more to an estate plan than wills and trusts (although those are important, too). When we work with clients to complete their estate plan, we also talk about things like:
- Advanced medical directives
- Charitable contributions
- Tax benefits of estate planning
- Short- and long-term plans for their minor children in a variety of scenarios. For example, if you’re in a car accident and rendered unconscious or in recovery for an extended period ( rendered incapacitated), you may opt for one child care plan. If you die, there may be a different one. It’s essential to have these things in writing and clarified with prospective caregivers so children don’t wind up in a confusing family argument.
We run through all of the nuts and bolts of estate planning beyond wills and trusts, matching your needs to the services.
Fear of the expense involved
The misconception that estate planning is only for the rich directly correlates with the myth that estate planning is too expensive for most people. Estate planning is as affordable as you need it to be. There are various ways to work through estate planning, from bundled packages and pricing for more complex estate plans to a couple of sessions to get you on the right track; we’re here to make the estate planning process as simple, affordable, and stress-free as possible.
If you’re worried about the cost of estate plans, shop around and discuss fee options with qualified estate planning lawyers. Then, the next best thing you can do is “be prepared.” The more organized and prepared you are for your sessions, the less you’ll need – and that saves you money.
Read, How to Prepare Before Meeting With an Estate Attorney, to get started.
You don’t know where to start
Estate planning is a legal process that can feel overwhelming initially. Where do you start? The simplest way to begin is by contacting a few experienced, reputable estate attorneys in your area. Take advantage of their initial, free phone consultations.
Once you’ve established a preference, schedule your first estate planning session. You’ll walk away with clear instructions and helpful organizers. After that, it’s just one step at a time until you’ve completed your estate plan through their guidance and support.
Tseng Law Firm Can Help You Get Started With Estate Planning
Do any of these reasons to avoid estate planning sound familiar? Take the first step and contact Tseng Law Firm. We make estate plans as simple as possible, and we’ll be there for you every step of the way. Estate planning doesn’t have to break the bank, and we’ll ensure you’re as prepared as possible to make your estate planning sessions efficient and affordable.