As estate planning attorneys with over thirty-five years combined experience in Florida, we often wonder why so many people neglect having their estate planning documents in order. Surely, they want to protect themselves and their loved ones in the event of illness, incapacity, or death. Surely, they want to protect their children. So why do so many people neglect having their estate documents in order? The fact is, there are probably multiple reasons…or excuses.
Through the years, we’ve concluded that at least one reason for this could be that some people fall subject to certain “myths” about estate planning. By definition, a myth is a widely-held but false belief or idea. These estate planning myths fit that definition and could lead to persons not taking action. We call these “myth-understandings” and once addressed, sometimes people are motivated to get their estate documents in order.
Here are some of the myth-understandings which we run into:
Myth: “I’m young and don’t own much, so I don’t need to do estate planning.
Truth: Just about everyone can benefit from estate planning, even if they are young, in good health, and own few assets. This is especially true if you have minor children or if you own a home. Persons of any age can develop health problems or be involved in an accident. If an adult of any age needs to have someone make medical decisions for them, HIPAA and other health laws prevent it from happening unless the right documentation is in place. Basic estate documents can assure that you, your loved ones, and your property are protected.
Myth: “I’ve got plenty of time to do my planning.”
Truth: The reason you plan is for the unexpected…and you never know when illness, an accident, incapacity or death could make planning impossible. We are amazed at how often we run into people who have suffered a life-threatening event and have nothing in place. Essential estate documents must be signed by a person with capacity so a catastrophic event could prevent you from being able to get documents in place. Estate planning is easy when you’re competent and essentially impossible once you’re incapacitated or dead.
Myth: “As long as I’ve written down what I want, my desires will be honored.”
Truth: You either have valid, enforceable documents or you don’t…and if you don’t, your desires will not necessarily be honored. Your wishes mean little if they are not properly documented. In Florida, there are certain requirements for a Will, Trust or Power of Attorney to be valid so writing down something on your own may be of no consequence.
Myth: “If something happens to me, my parents/brother/sister will just take custody and control of my children.”
Truth: If you have not legally designated a guardian, the state will decide where your children go and that might not be where you intend. If you designate a guardian in your estate documents, you get to make the decision. When we ask parents what matters moth to them in life, most say “my children.” So why not take action to protect them?
Myth: “I can just print a document off the Internet or from a computer program and that will protect me.”
Truth: “Doing it yourself” is like going on the Internet to figure out how to do surgery on yourself and then trying to do it…not advisable! In our practice, we see some of these do-it-yourself documents and they often are poorly drafted and neglect important provisions. When you do it yourself, you lack the counsel and advice that an experienced estate planning attorney can offer. When it comes to some of life’s most important decisions, why try doing it yourself?
Myth: “Doing estate planning is complicated and very time-consuming”
Truth: Some aspects of estate planning are complicated but if you are working with an experienced estate planning attorney, he or she can make things go easily and smoothly. The attorney can explain the important points about a Last Will and Testament, a Living Trust, a Durable Power of Attorney, a Power of Attorney for Healthcare, and a Declaration of Living Will. The attorney can explain the process of preparing and signing these and other essential documents. Yes, there is some time involved but let’s face it, you spend much of your time building your life…your family, your house, your business, etc. If you spend time building your life, shouldn’t you also spend time protecting it?
Myth: “Doing estate planning is very expensive.”
Truth: While estate planning through an experienced attorney does have a cost, it does not have to cost a fortune. In our practice, we offer a complimentary initial consultation on estate planning. Once we know what a client needs, we quote them a flat fee so that they know exactly the cost before we get started. In addition, the cost of not doing your estate planning can be even more expensive both in terms of money and impact on you or your loved ones.
These are just a few of the myth-understandings we run into…there are more! Perhaps we’ll address those in a future blog.