If you haven’t taken the time to prepare your estate plan, you’re not alone. According to a survey conducted by FindLaw.com, a whopping 55% of Americans haven’t even taken the time to have a will prepared, and 67% don’t have a living will in case they become incapacitated or terminally ill.
But that’s not all! The Findlaw.com survey also found that even those who did have a will generally did not keep it updated. In fact, nearly 40% said they had not updated their will within the last five years.
It’s not as though people are unaware of the need to plan their estates. Estate planners and many other professionals have preached the need for wills, and other estate planning documents for years. Most recently, the Terri Schiavo case brought the issue of living wills to national prominence. Yet, despite the brief surge in demand for living wills and other estate planning documents during that time, most Americans seem to have lapsed back into complacency about planning for their incapacity or death.
“That, in itself, may be the problem,” says Attorney Alan H. Berman of Hartford, Connecticut. People don’t like talking about death and dying, especially when they’re talking about themselves or their loved ones.” Attorney Berman says that many of his clients put off having a will prepared until the very last minute. “I get a lot of calls just before they have to get on an airplane,” he says. “Then they know they can’t put it off any longer.”
Death and dying are nobody’s favorite topics, to be sure. But, there seems to be more to it than that. The Allianz American Legacies Study, which was sponsored by the Allianz Life Insurance Company, surveyed 2,627 people of all age groups “to identify how they define leaving a legacy and how families are communicating about these sensitive issues today.”
One of the interesting – and, probably, most revealing – facts to come out of the Allianz American Legacies Study was this – seniors and baby boomers both ranked money last on their list of important estate planning issues. Ranked ahead of money was the idea of leaving a legacy which, according to the study, “captures all facets of an individual’s life – including their family traditions and history, sharing stories, values and wishes.”
Attorney Berman agrees with the assessment of the Allianz American Legacies Study. “From my experience,” he says, “people seem to clam up as soon as you start talking about money. They’d rather talk about their family history or certain mementos – prized personal possessions that might not have a lot of monetary value but certainly have a lot of sentimental value.”
Another reason why many people procrastinate when it comes to estate planning is their feeling that they don’t have enough money to bother with an estate plan. However, as Attorney Berman is quick to point out, “estate planning is not just about money. In fact, it’s about taking care of your loved one’s needs in the event you can’t do it on your own. Money is often a means to an end, but the end is often the well-being of loved ones.” That’s the “legacy” that seems to motivate most people when it comes to estate planning.
If we are to learn anything from the Allianz American Legacies Study, it would seem to be that estate planners should direct their efforts toward “legacy” planning rather than “inheritance” planning. Unfortunately, most estate planners spend their time learning about the intracacies of the estate tax laws and the probate laws when they should be learning about assessing a client’s attitudes about family traditions and history, about sharing stories, and about their values and wishes. Not that the estate tax laws aren’t important, because they are. It’s just that they’re not going to motivate many people who just don’t care about such things.
That seems to be in accord with the findings of the Allianz American Legacies Study. In that study, it was found that “[t]he top qualities both generations look for in a legacy advisor are honesty, trustworthiness, compassion, a good listener and a strong and clear communicator.”
So there you have it! If you haven’t taken the time to have your estate planning done, it may be because your focus was on money. Instead, try focusing on your family and all the things that you love and cherish. You might find that you’re suddenly anxious to find a legacy advisor that will make your estate planning experience a very memorable one. You’re family will love you all the more for it.
Just one more thing! According to the Allianz American Legacies Study, it is estimated by Paul Schervish and John J. Havens of the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy that $41 trillion is set to be willed, passed on, and/or left to others over the next 50 years. So, even though we don’t like to talk about it, it is an integral part of everyone’s estate planning.