“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 passed down from previous generations. With great pride, Mary had done everything right with these heirlooms. She left all items in their original good condition (never refinished or restored them), knew all the history of each piece, kept them out of direct sunlight and away from heat vents, never placed them in the attic.
But Mary made a huge error along the way: she procrastinated making an estate plan for her assets and preparing for her own death. In fact, Mary 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 Mary’s lovely possessions. The children hoped that my visit would convince Mary 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 preparing all her wishes for her children. I even offered the name and number of an estate attorney who would be willing to come to her home.
I made the assumption that at 96, Mary had accepted her advanced age and her close proximity to death. However, Mary had a great deal of difficulty accepting her mortality. “I do not need a will. I have written my wishes for my children on a piece of notebook paper, and 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, etc. This is simply not fair to do to children!
What happened with Mary’s estate? No one ever found her handwritten will, and it became a nightmare for the family. It became a litany of “Mom said I could have this” or “No, she promised that to me.”
Mary’s reasons for procrastination will never be known by any of us. Some are afraid of even talking about death. We shouldn’t be; it is 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 on the inevitable. For those in the last two groups, life will be most difficult for your children or heirs, upon your demise.
For trustworthy advice on these issues and much more, please click on the right side of my blog at “The Boomer Burden” and order my book.
© 2009 Julie Hall