Estate Planning Notes
Small insights about estates in the news
Aretha Franklin died on August 16, 2018 at the age of 76. The Queen of Soul was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; charted 43 Top Forty singles; earned 18 Grammy Awards; received the Presidential Medal of Freedom; sang at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral and President Barack Obama’s inauguration; and was laid to rest in a 24-karat gold plated casket, yet she didn’t have a Will.
You might wonder, how can that be? She had attorneys, advisors, agents. She had children and grandchildren. She had a terminal illness. Her fortune is estimated to be as much as $80M. With access to the best advisors and knowing that the end was near, why didn’t she have a sophisticated estate plan in place, or at the very least, a Will? It doesn’t seem to make sense, does it?
Unfortunately, Estate planning attorneys see this kind of procrastination far too frequently. At Momentum, we call it the “It’s on my to-do list” mantra. Chanted over and over again, it lulls you into a false sense of peace. Although this writer doesn’t know why the Queen of Soul didn’t check this off her list, here are some common reasons why even sophisticated people never get around to doing their estate planning:
- I’ll Be Dead. We hear this all the time. Usually it’s followed by, “so I won’t care.” But what we find when we ask our clients about their family, philanthropy, businesses, assets, and taxes, is that they really do care.
We’ve never met a client that didn’t care if she paid more tax than necessary; the business folded because there was no succession plan; or her assets were wasted on litigation. “I’ll be dead” is just another way of saying, “I don’t want to face this.”
- They’re great kids. They’ll figure it out. Many parents have too much faith in their kids and assume even if the law dictates a disposition of assets in a way that isn’t exactly how the parent would prefer, the children will make it right on their own.
But death is stressful. Even the best families fall apart when the patriarch or matriarch dies, because there’s a leadership vacuum. Filling the void takes time. Old resentments reappear. It’s not that the kids aren’t great; it’s that they’re grieving. And grief makes people do strange things.
- I don’t want to face this. Yep. We’re right there with you on this one. People don’t like to think about death. They don’t want to think about their kids and grandkids growing up without them and what they’ll miss when they’re gone. But that just means you really do care what happens. You can have an impact with the planning you do or don’t do.
- I don’t have time. We get it! It’s hard to think about what’s going to happen after you die when you have so much to do right now while you’re alive. But for the majority of people, estate planning is straightforward and can be completed in a few hours.
- It’s too complicated. I don’t know what I want to do. This is where professionals can really help. Good estate planning might include working with your adult children, business partners, accountants, attorneys, and other advisors.
Estate planning attorneys are accustomed to confusion and can help you figure out how to figure it out. Most estate planning problems have easy solutions.
- It’s too expensive. Most people don’t like to spend money on lawyers or things they won’t be around to enjoy. Let’s face it, spending money on estate planning falls into both categories. But the litigation fees and taxes your estate will spend will be much more significant if you die without a Will. So in the end, more money goes to lawyers and Uncle Sam.
That doesn’t sound too good, does it? Depending upon your circumstances, part of your estate planning might include making gifts to charities, children and grandchildren during your life, and that feels great!
The right time to start Estate Planning
We find that most of our family, friends and clients feel great once they check an item off their to-do list, especially an item that’s been sitting on the list for a long time. And that goes for estate planning too.
Once it’s done, you’ll have an enormous sense of wellbeing.
If you’re thinking, “I’ll get around to it but” or “I know I should but” — take a look at Mel Robbin’s The Five Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work and Confidence with Everyday Courage, Savio Republic, 2017.
If you need help drafting or reviewing your estate planning documents, reach out to us for support. We’ve got your back.
Tell us your trials and triumphs drafting a contract on LinkedIn or Facebook. We’d love to share your cautionary tale with our clients.