Apparently, people like being scared as long as it is in small doses in a controlled situation. Daniel Kelly, a professor at Purdue University, talks about the appeal of Halloween as a time when we can give ourselves a good scare without the risk of really being in danger. Whether you’re watching scary movies or walking through a temporary Haunted House, there’s always a barrier between you and the threat – you can turn the video off or you can walk out of the House and leave all the ghouls behind. The barrier is what makes the scare controlled.
I bring this up because it’s been my experience that people are scared of doing estate planning. Some people will tell you they haven’t done it because they don’t have the time or money yet, but personally I think it almost always comes down to fear. Fear of what they will have to face about themselves, their life, and their family when creating an estate plan.
Many people are, of course, scared of mortality. For some, that thought alone is scary enough. Some are superstitious and fear that merely the act of talking about death will start them down a slippery slope to a morbid end that wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t mentioned <in a whisper> death. Yeah, right.
But what I have seen the most is not fear of death itself. Rather, its the fear of confronting the state of one’s own life. The process of planning requires that we review not only the things we own and the money we have, but that we review our family members, and the friends in our life. For some people, this brings them face to face with realities they may be trying to rise above. For some, it’s painful memories. For others, it’s a lonely life, or a chaotic family, or relationships they wish were different. When you add in the need to plan care and support for a family member with special needs or a disability, people often don’t feel that the scary part of the process can be controlled enough to avoid the danger of becoming completely overwhelmed and depressed over the state of their life and their ability to care for their vulnerable family member.
The barrier Professor Kelly talks about – the ability to turn off or walk away from the scary experience – may not feel like it exists with estate planning, and so people avoid going through the process. But there is a barrier of sorts, a safekeeper. It comes in the form of your attorney, sort of your super hero guide, if you will. Your attorney can guide you through finding a way to handle everything you need to plan for even when you have a less than ideal pool of people to work with. Attorneys are professional problem solvers and they’ve probably worked with clients who have similar situations to yours. Their job as advisor to you means that when you have no idea how to do what needs to be done, they can guide you. They can keep you on track and focused on the planning work at hand, keeping you from falling into the scary world of regrets and what ifs.
Halloween is upon us, and the best scary/not scary experience you can have for the sake of your family is to face the monster, face your mortality, and put your plan in place.
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