If you are reading this blog in lieu of doing your work, starting that diet tomorrow instead of today, or watching reruns of the Oscars rather than cleaning, this week is dedicated to you. No, you didn’t read that wrong – it really is National Procrastination Week!

As an attorney, I try my best to stay on top of my workload and prepared for everything. But, at the end of the day, I am also only human and have limited willpower when it comes to the popular vice of procrastination. And while I still have a long way to go in terms of procrastinating on the never-ending housework, estate planning is one thing that, through experience, I have learned truly cannot “wait until tomorrow.”

When Life Happens

I was fortunate enough to grow up with everyone’s favorite aunt – the aunt who let me do anything as a kid and later became my respected role model as an adult. When her husband passed away, they didn’t have an estate plan. Luckily, all of their assets were titled jointly, so my aunt automatically received the financial security she needed to continue living comfortably and without having to deal with probating his estate. Having homes in both Michigan and Florida, my aunt understandably spent a great deal of her time enjoying the Florida sun. In those two years after my uncle’s passing, I must have hounded her to create an estate plan at least five times. Headed out on a vacation, my husband and I decided to first stop in Florida for a quick hello. However, that quick visit took a sharp, downward turn when my aunt suddenly became gravely ill. Within 48 hours of arriving at the hospital, she was diagnosed with stage-four lymphoma. My husband and I cancelled our trip and spent the rest of our time taking care of her and triaging the various issues in her life.

About as soon as she was diagnosed, we were told she needed a form of chemotherapy that had the potential to kill her. While we are still trying to wrap our heads around her stunning diagnosis, she reminds me she never made an estate plan. Not licensed to practice law in Florida, I was powerless to help. Thankfully, I was able to find an estate-planning attorney in Florida, who was willing and able to come to the hospital, meet with her, leave to draft the paperwork, and bring them back to be signed – all within 24 hours, just so it could be done before the chemotherapy started.

I was both grateful and overwhelmed by such a rushed process. And remember, I am an estate planning attorney. While I was glad her wishes were communicated and able to be carried out, it was also frustrating and emotional for everyone to be consumed with such a process when all we should have been focusing on was getting my aunt healthy again.

At the same time, my aunt told me she wanted to beneficiary designate certain accounts to her grandchildren. I requested the forms and filled them out to her wishes, but she didn’t get to sign them before she passed. Because of this, I would up the beneficiary of assets I knew my aunt wanted someone else to have. While legally I could have kept the money, I did the moral thing and gave it to her grandkids. I’m not telling you this to get any kudos or a pat on the back for doing the moral thing, I’m telling you this because not everyone out there does the right thing. It’s one of the main reasons probate litigation exists.

You may be asking yourself why I just told you such a personal story about my family. Because everyone procrastinates. It’s what we do – we’re only human after all. But had I not found an attorney to come to the hospital, there would have been no one to legally make all of my aunt’s medical decisions when she became unable to. There would have been no one to pay her bills for her. And the entirety of her estate would have gone to her sister. And while she loved her sister, she also wanted to include others in her estate plan.

One could say that everything worked out in the end. And that’s generally true I suppose. But not many attorneys make deathbed calls. And even if you find one that will, is that really what you want to be doing in what might be your final days or weeks? Do you really want a stranger coming into your house or hospital room and asking you all sorts of personal questions?

I Understand

As an estate-planning attorney, I had known the importance of being prepared for anything. However, the significant weight of actually having an estate plan (let alone an updated one!) hadn’t sat heavy on me until these personal experiences. Sharing my inheritance with my aunt’s grandchildren was a no-brainer – I know that’s what she would have wanted, and I respected both those wishes and her extended family. However, this is where moral versus legal comes into play. Many people leave all of their assets to one beneficiary and expect they will share their inheritances with other relatives and loved ones. Sadly, this is rarely the case, especially once that beneficiary receives a large sum of money and is not legally obliged to share a dime of it.

So when I tell my clients that I understand the stress they go through – I mean it whole-heartedly.

We aren’t guaranteed next week, tomorrow, or even five minutes from now. So if you do decide to break your procrastinating streak with anything, break it by making an estate plan. The cost and a few hours of time you spend now will save your loved ones even more money, months in probate court, and the added emotional stress of dealing with probate when all they want to do is grieve and honor your memory.

Don’t Procrastinate… Unless It’s On Your Housework

When you do decide to create your estate plan, we will be here for you. And yes, we do make house/hospital calls when necessary. Contact one of our estate-planning experts for a free consultation at 248.399.3300 or Darren@TheProbatePro.com.