Let’s play the odds here for a second and pretend it’s inevitable that you are going die. Someday, not that long from now when you think about it, you’re going to keel over, become kaput, push up daisies, become worm fertilizer, and all those other wonderful euphemisms. Trust me, in my profession, I hear them all too frequently.
Let’s look at another amazing statistic … almost no one on the planet wants to talk about it or in any way be prepared until it’s too late. All of us, just walking around like we are some invincible super hero set to live forever, or at least pass away centuries from now with absolutely zero problems until that day comes. And when it comes? Well, obviously, we go from perfectly fine, normal functioning human beings with all our cognitive ability still in place and then the next day we are just gone, passed in our sleep most likely.
Want to know another statistic? That little story happens to virtually no one.
Here’s the scoop folks, while you only die once, most people fail miserably at being prepared for it. Every single person on this planet has access to everything they need to plan for their death. They don’t even have to talk to a stuck up, no good, scum-sucking lawyer to do it. They could talk to a do-gooder, people-loving, puppy cuddling excellent attorney, but they don’t have to do that either. Simply having a conversation with friends and family while putting your wishes down on paper is better than nothing! But we don’t do that either.
Here are some mind-blowing statistics for your brain hole:
- 62% of people don’t have a medical power of attorney in place. This means there is absolutely no one that can speak to a doctor regarding whether or not you want your leg chopped off if you are in a coma. You’ve got another one anyway.
- 55% of people don’t have any type of estate planning in place. This includes even just a simple will. You’re fine with the state deciding who gets your things, right? I mean, you gave enough to your family and kids while you were alive. Taxes? Nope, definitely didn’t pay enough of those. State, pretty please take more of my money!!
- Think that last number was ok? 92% of adults under the age of 35 do not have a will. This includes people with children! You realize the only sure-fire way to prevent foster care for your kids is to appoint a guardian for them in your estate plan? No, you didn’t get that memo. Consider it delivered.
- 32% of Americans say they would rather have a root canal, pay taxes or even give up sex instead of talking about their estate planning. REALLY? I am clearly not doing my taxes right.
- 13% of individuals believe that their spouse or family will be able to make decisions for them or inherit their stuff anyway. This is a smaller number, but an amazing misconception. This one is just not true.
- Most people say they want to pass at home, yet only 33% have a health care directive saying so.
- Americans, on average, use 100,000,000,000 shopping bags a year! That’s enough to go around the equator … twice … every day. That has nothing to do with estate planning, it just blew my mind. Get a reusable shopping bag before you die. There. Planning.
So big whoop. Nice stats, right? What’s the big deal anyway? Here are some of the consequences of not having an estate plan:
- All of your money and stuff that you’ve worked hard for could literally go to the state. I don’t know anyone that likes taxes that much.
- Your children could be left with nothing. This is especially true for people involved in a second, third, fourth or Trump marriage. Let’s do a quick example. A is married to B. They have kids. A dies so all A’s stuff goes to B. B remarries C later in life. B dies and all of B’s stuff (including A’s stuff because he had no plan) goes to C. C goes to live on a beach in Hawaii legally. Children get nothing. Not a thing.
- If you own a business and don’t have a financial power of attorney, there will be no one to make decisions for your company, pay bills, access bank accounts or keep your clients happy. There goes your business. It wasn’t that important, was it?
- Heck, if you own anything and become incapacitated without a power of attorney in place, your things could vanish by the time you regain capacity. Mortgage payments, water bills, car payments, who pays those if you are in coma or in the hospital?
- Your children could go to foster care. Appointing a guardian for them now stops that. I don’t know what else to say about it. That’s pretty powerful.
- All of your money could go to paying a professional you’ve never met to manage your things. Let me reiterate, you do not know this person and you have to pay them an exorbitant amount of cash. See more below.
Odds are, you will be incapacitated more than once
So we’ve played the numbers and looked at all kinds of stats. Here’s one people don’t think about, however, and definitely don’t plan for. While you will only die once, you will likely become incapacitated multiple times throughout your life.
Who makes decisions for you then?
The court, that’s who. Some judge somewhere who hasn’t met you or your family will appoint a “professional” that hasn’t met you and doesn’t know you at all to manage your finances and/or your healthcare decisions. This means someone you’ve never even talked to could decide to keep you on life support for 100 years … or pull the plug unexpectedly. We like stories with cliffhangers though. Oh, did I fail to mention you have to pay this person that doesn’t know you? A lot. So there goes that inheritance the kids could pay off their student loans with. Wait, who am I kidding. No one is ever paying off their student loans.
But I don’t have an “estate”
I’m just going to go ahead and call bull@#%! on this one. Every single person has an estate. Maybe not the size of Prince’s or Buffet’s, but we all have something. Think of a few of these things, for instance:
- Debt: Didn’t think this one counted, eh? Well it does. Your debt doesn’t just vanish when you die. Not even a lot of student loans go away. Have a co-signer on your loan? Those people are stuck paying your bills if you pass with no plan. Have credit card debt or private student loans? Someone still has to pay those. Only federal student loans are automatically discharged on death.
- Family heirlooms: I realize this is an ancient term, but everyone has stuff that is important to them. Maybe you got a watch from your grandpa. Maybe you have your great grandmother’s wedding ring. Heck, maybe you have a Picaso. Who knows. The point is everyone has something important to them that they would like to have stay in the family and not get pooped on by a crow in some landfill somewhere.
- Last wishes: This isn’t technically property, but you have the right to decide what happens to you when you pass away. Without a plan, you give up that right. More importantly, you throw this enormous burden into the face of your loved ones who will be unprepared for it. One study showed that when asked how their spouse wanted to be treated in certain medical situations, spouses guessed wrong 60% of the time. I guess your significant other really is wrong all the time. They should listen to you more often.
- Children: This is a big one. I can’t even tell you how many people come through my doors with children and don’t have people lined up to care for them if something should happen to them. Here’s a fact for you, spouses travel together. They get in accidents together. If nothing is in place, they have left their kids to the care of the state, together. This one is so easy to solve and your children are the most important thing in your life, period.
Wrap it up
Why on earth does no one, and I mean no one, want to talk about the inevitable? After seeing the stats and knowing what could happen without an estate plan, it seems like a no-brainer. But it’s not. The hard truth of the matter is that talking about the end of your life isn’t easy. But, it’s necessary. The pain and anguish caused by not doing it is too costly. I get the point of view that some people just want to say “throw me away with the trash” or “I’m dead, what do I care.” If it were that easy and no one fought when you were gone, or no one else was impacted by someone passing away, then sure, maybe those thoughts are fine. The truth is someone, usually many people, are impacted by your death. Also, we don’t throw bodies out in case you were wondering. That’s illegal. Very. You will go to jail.
This isn’t meant to make you go out and pay huge amounts of money to get a full-blown estate plan with all the bells and whistles, like 32 different types of trusts. It is simply a letter to let you know the horror stories I have seen in my career. To spread the word about a little-known area of law called estate planning, that when you don’t know about it, truly can wreak havoc on people’s lives. So, go have the talk with your family. Stop putting it off. You don’t have to call me, but call an estate planning attorney somewhere. Most of us offer a free consult anyway, so you can bear being in the same room with a lawyer for a bit. The moral of the story is do something. You don’t have to get a root canal or give up sex. Please don’t do that.
The odds are, the ball is in your court to protect the ones you love.