10 REASONS WHY PEOPLE DON’T HAVE AN ESTATE PLAN
Gallup's polling from 2021 found that a staggering 64% of Americans have no will in place to describe how their money and estate are to be handled after their death.
And that is just related to having a will. Only 18 percent of people who have a will, also have all of the recommended estate plan essentials. (If you are asking the question “what are the estate plan essentials”, check out our blog on the Key Estate Plan Documents.)
Of that 46% that do have a will, only 7% have an estate plan that includes their pets.
As might be expected, Americans aged 65 and older are the most likely subgroup to have a will at 76%. Each younger age group is significantly less likely to have a will than the previous one, to the lowest percentage of just 20% of adults under age 30 have a will.
Additionally, the study found that upper-income Americans are much more likely than lower-income Americans to report having a will. This reinforces reason #5 below of why people don’t have a will; “that only wealthy people need a will”.
Here are the top reasons why people put off putting a will in place:
1. “I’m too young to write a will.”
This is a common thought – it’s the invincibility fallacy. Young people don’t die so they don’t need to plan for their death. The truth is that young people die all the time and that tomorrow is guaranteed to no one. Life is unpredictable. Certainly if you have a spouse and children, they are depending on you to have a plan to provide for them. And let’s add to that if you have a pet they are depending on you to have a documented plan for them.
At this point I always tell people a story from my real-life experience in rescue work when a young man at the age of 26 was killed in a motorcycle accident in Washington, D.C. He had a young Pitbull dog in his apartment. Animal Control seized the dog and was going to put him to sleep due to a negative policy on Pitbull ownership and adoption. Perpetual Care was located in Virginia and we worked desperately with various rescue groups around Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia to get this dog pulled to safety and help find him a new home. We don’t expect to die at a young age, but we don’t want our pets pay the price for that assumption.
2. “I don’t want to think about dying.”
Some people think there is a “jinx” surrounding estate planning – that if they plan for their death, they will die soon thereafter. This is fear thinking, of course, and it may be best overcome by thinking about how having an estate plan will benefit those you love.
Sometimes being confronted with our own mortality through the death of a loved one or a near-death experience it can be a trigger point for people to make a plan, especially when they see what family or friends go through after the death of someone who does not have an estate plan.
3. The belief that assets will automatically pass to the right people
If you die without a will, it means you have died "intestate." When this happens, the intestacy laws of the state where you reside will determine how your property is distributed upon your death. This includes any bank accounts, securities, real estate, and other assets you own at the time of death.
If you're single and childless, your parents will receive your entire estate if they are both living. If, on the other hand, you're single and have children, then your entire estate generally will go to your children, in equal shares.
Dying without a will can be devastating to unmarried couples who are living together. Because intestacy laws only recognize relatives, unmarried couples don't inherit the property of the other partner when one partner dies without a will. Unless there's a will which clearly states a person's intentions when they die, the decedent's property will be divided among relatives, depending on their relation to the decedent.
All of this means that if you leave it up to the intestacy laws of the state your assets may not go to the specific people you intended and sometimes that turns into some unpleasant court battles contesting the estate as well.
4. Drafting a will is expensive
There are several options for drafting a will that are cost effective. There are online software providers like Nolo who will help you draft a will for as little as $89. It is still important to have an attorney in your state review the will, only because estate planning laws vary from state to state. You can also search attorneys in your area, but it is possible to find attorneys who will also prepare a will for anywhere from $100 – $600. You must also look at planning as an investment rather than an expense. You’re investing a small amount now to make sure your family doesn’t get stuck with a larger bill after you pass. For most people, the first time in your life that a will becomes imperative is when you have children.
It’s also worth pointing out that if your estate goes into probate due to the lack of the will, you will be turning over a significant portion of your assets to the state which charges probate fees.
5. The belief that only wealthy people need wills
There are numerous reasons for people to create a will other than the size of their potential estate. Probably the best example is minor children, who need guardians to be appointed in the parents’ wills. In the terrible event that you and your spouse die at the same time without a will, it falls to a probate court judge to name a guardian for your minor children — not a pleasant prospect. That’s why it is a crucial first step to name a guardian for your minor kids. Our experts recommend naming an alternate guardian in the document, as well, in case something happens to your first choice.
6. Reluctant to discuss personal details with an attorney
While it can be uncomfortable to discuss private matters with near strangers, you should rest assured that attorneys will safeguard your conversations as privileged attorney-client communications. Their lips are sealed.
7. Unaware of the consequences of not having a will
Most people know very little about what estate planning does, let alone what happens if you don’t plan at all, so it is understandable that they do not have a concern about the potential consequences. It may help you to understand the impact of not having a will if you talk with people who have gone through the process of losing a loved one without a will. I also hope that some of the answers above will give you insight into the potential issues with not having a will. The impact is always felt by our loved ones left behind to deal with the difficulties.
8. “I don’t have anything of value.”
While it may be true that you have a simple estate with few assets, still there may be more to leave to others than you realize. Even a simple bank account represents an asset that may benefit someone in your family. Perhaps you have some personal items that someone in your family would treasure. It is worth the time to make a list of your assets and contemplate how you would like to pass them on to family or friends.
9. “My family will take care of everything.”
Perhaps your family will take care of your personal effects, but when it comes to assets and minor children, they may not have any control over what happens to them unless it is designated in your will. The question is, do you feel comfortable leaving everything to chance and depending on the state to determine what happens to your family and your possessions?
Of course as the founder of Perpetual Care, I especially worry about the thought that your family will “just take care of everything” when it comes to your pets. I challenge you to start with asking the people in your family “If something happened to me tomorrow, would you take my pets?” and see what they say. Hopefully they will give you their honest answer rather than telling you what they think you want to hear, but then follow that up with a Pet Life Care Agreement and ask if they would sign an agreement to that effect.
Suddenly, that may become a real question rather than a hypothetical one, and you might be surprised at the answer. I have tested this out with people and had them ask their family members and they have been surprised when their family has had reasons why they would not actually take their pets. Our pet life care agreement is a template you can use to create an agreement between you and a primary and a secondary caregiver for your pets. Visit our website at https://perpetualcare.org/estate-planning or click on FAQ/Templates to find out more and request a template. Your pets will thank you for it!
10. “I don’t know where to start.”
Many people just don’t know where to start and so they don’t take the first step. They don’t know the basics about what they need and how to prepare the necessary documents. When you don’t know where to start, it’s hard to start at all. It’s easy to put it off and then never get to it until it's too late.
One way to get the ball rolling on planning is to call and meet with an attorney to discuss your options. An important thing to know as you get started is that many attorneys offer free initial consultations, so shop around, ask questions before, during and even after the consultation before you decide on an attorney. Be sure that it’s an estate planning attorney and they will usually guide you through the steps and have forms for you to complete in order to lay out your assets.
Before you even contact a lawyer, however, it may be very helpful for you and for your consultation visit with the lawyer to take a moment and list out anything that you own, personal and real estate property, bank accounts, insurance, retirement accounts, etc. and next to it, write down who you would like it to go to in your estate plan. It could be eye opening for you and it could be the incentive for you to take the next step.
Remember, it's never too early to plan, but it can be too late!