Talisman Talk


October 20, 2021

No One Here Gets Out Alive: Fear and Loathing in Planning for the Worst

By Jennifer Kirby, Managing Partner, Senior Wealth Advisor |
Elektra Records-Joel Brodsky, Doors electra publicity photo, Cropped by Jennifer Kirby, CC0 1.0

Part 1 of the Talisman Talk Series

The look is always one of slight embarrassment... No, I don't have a will; yes, I know I need to do that...

I estimate it is a cool 30% of clients who walk in with no estate documents, no powers of attorney, no advanced directives, nada. Singles, people with kids, young and old - many people simply find the topic too daunting or squeamish. Too many painful questions to address.

Here are some of the Excuse Greatist Hits I've heard over the years:

  • I'm single; it doesn't matter.
  • I'm not rich; it doesn't matter.
  • If something happens to the two of us, where do the kids go? Mom and Dad are too old to take care of them. Your crazy sister/brother/aunt/etc. is out of the question.
  • Who should be the executor if we both go? Your brother is an idiot; I do not want him deciding on anything.
  • I don't care if my brother/sister/cousin/bestie is an attorney, I don't want them knowing what I have.
  • They are going to fight over grandma's ugly lamp. I don't know who to leave it to.
  • It's going to cost money to put these documents together.

A financial advisor like us can help you move past these excuses. Caveat: I am not an attorney, and nothing I say here should be construed as official advice. Your situation is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all for estate planning. But here are some things that apply to everyone:
  • You have money and you have stuff. Both need a home after you die.
  • As Jim Morrison said, no one here gets out alive. I am still hoping for the best with my experiment in immortality, but it seems unlikely if history is any guide.
  • If you love paying taxes, stop reading. If you'd prefer to keep Uncle Sam out of your heirs' pockets as much as you can, do a plan.
  • A lack of planning can lead to ugly family fights which can (and often do) start as soon as the wake. And once people start drinking at the repast all bets are off. You've probably seen or heard of such things - people crawl out of the proverbial woodwork. Aunt Margot's ex-husband says he was owed money, something, something...
  • Case study: Prince. Famously, Prince had no will. Dig, if you will, a picture... of his sister and four half-siblings tied up in court for years battling would-be love children, relatives, and hangers-on claming they are owed something. He died in 2016. There is no end in sight.
  • A lack of planning will assuredly add time and pain to the process of disbursing your estate, and it is not assured that your intentions will be honored.

Look, no shame in the game. I need to lose weight and exercise, I know it's important, and yet. And yet.

If you don't have an estate attorney, ask around. Ask us for names. Ask people you trust if they have someone they can refer. Ask any type of attorney - they can refer you if they don't do estate planning themselves.

If cost is a barrier, go online and type "estate documents". You will find lists of information on the documents you need, as well as cheap or free services to generate said documents. This exercise will take less time than rotating your laundry. Since neither of us are professionals at this, this would not be my go-to, but, again, better than nothing.

Don't make a huge thing out of this. Just get to it. Documents can always be created, then changed. A friend of mine writes her kids in and out of her will every couple of months. Any big trip she takes is preceded with Who annoyed me last?

Basic documents are better than no documents. A handwritten document, also known as a holographic will, is the worst thing ever except for no will at all. So, if you absolutely cannot, will not, see someone or produce something online through a legal document service, get out the yellow pad and a pen. A quick online search will tell you what you need in a holographic will for it to be valid. But note not all states accept a holographic will. Murphy’s Law says that, in your state, it won’t work. So double-check.

And don’t worry about what anyone will think. Recall every movie you ever saw where people are gathered in an attorney’s office for The Reading of The Will. No one knew in advance, and usually someone comes away unhappy.  But here’s the thing—if you are dead, you won’t care. People can be annoyed, or angry, shaking their fists at the heavens and cursing your name. And you won’t know. There, a silver lining. They should be grateful you thought of them to begin with.