“When the boat reaches midstream, it is too late to mend the leaks.”
~ A Chinese proverb
Mary was 96 years old and had a lovely 3-bedroom home filled with antiques and collectibles passed down from previous generations. With great pride, Mary had done everything right with these heirlooms. She left all items in their original condition (never refinished or repainted them), knew all the history of each piece, kept them out of direct sunlight, and never placed them in her attic.
But Mary made a huge error along the way; she procrastinated about making an estate plan for her personal assets and preparing for her own death. In fact, she didn’t even have a legal will.
I remember meeting Mary about 6 months prior to her passing. Her two children were present, and everyone wanted to know the values of her lovely possessions. The children hoped that my visit would convince their mother of her urgent need to prepare a will, so her wishes would be known and fulfilled after her death. At length, I spoke with Mary about the importance of documenting all her wishes for her children. I shared stories of some past clients who did not plan ahead and what happened afterwards .. usually leaving behind a nightmare for the heirs.
I made the assumption that at 96, Mary had accepted her advanced age and her close proximity to death. However, she had a great difficulty accepting her mortality.
“I do not need a will. I have written my wishes for my children on a piece of notebook paper; that is good enough. If it isn’t good enough, then my kids will just have to fight over it.”
The children looked at me and grimaced. They knew the complications that awaited them if mom did not get legal assistance to prepare her last wishes and plans. These complications can be years of red tape, tremendous financial pressures to settle the estate, family feuds, etc. This is simply not fair to do to children, not to mention it’s a terrible legacy to leave!
What happened with Mary’s estate?
No one ever found her handwritten will on the yellow notebook papers; it became a nightmare for the family. It became a litany of “Mom said I could have this” and “No, she promised that to me.” Mary was wrong in her thought process and her lack of actions to distribute her property the way she wanted it to be. She lost all of that because she did not legally prepare.
Isn’t it interesting that she cared so very deeply for her possessions while she was alive, yet did not have a legal plan for them upon her death?
Mary’s reasons for procrastination will never be known to any of us. Some are afraid of even talking about death. We shouldn’t be; it’s a certainty. The older generation seems to be parted into three groups. Those that are completely prepared, those who won’t even discuss it and leave it all on their children’s shoulders, and those that simply sit on it for years and procrastinate the inevitable. For those in the last two groups, life will be most difficult for your children and heirs.
The good news is there is still time, if you are reading this. Take action today and leave a positive legacy.
©2015 The Estate Lady®
Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising. http://www.TheEstateLady.com She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation. http://www.aselonline.com.
No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent. Email her at Julie@TheEstateLady.com.