“You’ll leave a mess and they won’t think so highly of you.” Dying without a will is the ultimate selfish act.

By Morey Stettner

Not making a will is a sure way to tarnish your memory, spark family disputes, and waste money on lawyers’ fees and taxes that would have gone to your heirs.

There are many reasons why otherwise responsible adults do not make a will. They are too busy, discouraged by the perceived cost, or unwilling to think about their own death.

Financial advisors hear these excuses over and over. Usually they respond with empathy and patience when trying to overcome customer resistance.

Here’s what they won’t say out loud: Refusing to write a will is a final act of wickedness. It’s a sure way to tarnish your memory, spark family disputes, and waste money on attorneys’ fees and taxes that would have gone to your heirs.

Mike Wren would never say such words to a client. The Leawood, Kansas-based certified financial planner says almost everyone takes his advice and writes a will. He calls the few who refuse “super-selfish.”

“It’s when someone says, ‘Oh, I won’t be there,’ then they don’t care,” Wren said. “When I hear that, I leave meetings shaking my head. I’m like, ‘This person sees this as their problem and doesn’t do anything about it. But it’s their family’s problem.'”

He acknowledges that many people “hate the conversation about death”. So about four years ago, he and his colleagues created a planning tool that prompts clients to think about how their death would affect their heirs.

Billed as an “inherited love letter”, the 10-page form is not a will or legal document. Instead, it serves as a clearinghouse of information so that survivors have a road map to follow immediately after the death of their loved one. The form allows customers to list where all their funds are held, along with contact details for financial service providers, online account passwords and other useful information.

Wren does not keep a copy of the completed Legacy Love Letter. He simply asks customers, “Where do you keep it?”

“So if the client dies, we can tell the adult child or the sibling that calls us to check the drawer in the top right of the bedroom,” Wren said. “Having this document really helps them because the next one to two weeks [after the death] are chaotic for the family” as they attempt to track down where the assets are held and how to access them.

Counselors tell clients that a will serves many purposes. In addition to distributing assets — from money to cars to collectibles — a will can specify burial wishes, guardians for minors, and other inheritance issues.

Otherwise, the settlement of an estate may escape the hands of a family. “Without a will, state law determines the process,” Wren said. “The state becomes the de facto decision-maker. Things may not turn out the way the deceased would have liked.”

Experienced advisors know they need to be nimble in how they approach the subject of wills. Harassment can backfire. It’s best to personalize their appeal so that it resonates with the customer. The key is to press the right button that drives the customer to action.

George F. Reilly, a certified financial planner and estate planning attorney in Occoquan, Va., prefers to frame the conversation as “peace of mind planning” rather than “end-of-life planning.”

“Control from the Grave”

He tries other tactics adapted to the priorities and sensitivity of the client. For controlling personalities, he might say, “A will allows you to exercise control from the grave.”

“It gets their attention,” Reilly said. “They like the idea of ​​knowing what will happen after they die.”

For others, it could paint a picture of their grieving survivors — and the frustrations they may face in dealing with the remnants of the deceased’s financial life.

“I refer to it as a final gift to your loved ones,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, I’ll go from the final gift to the guilt and say, ‘You’re going to leave a mess and they won’t think so highly of you.’ I’m talking about the stress and the burden on them if there’s no plan in place, that on top of the emotional strain they now have to deal with legal and financial issues that could easily have been resolved. in advance.”

Superstition can make things worse. Clients may assume they are tempting fate by writing a will. “Some clients don’t get a will because they think it will bring them bad luck,” said Nicholas Bunio, a certified financial planner in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. “They think getting a will could kill them. Because it’s not very logical, it’s hard to top.”

Bunio, 31, responds by saying, “I got my will at 25 and I’m still here.” It also lists all the reasons for having a will, educating clients about the costs of inaction. “For the more complex issues, I bring up tax advantages, inheritance protection, protection for family members who are not good with their finances,” he said. “And yes, in any case, I conjure up horror stories of poor planning.”

More: “We are surprised and disconcerted”: My brother passed away and left his house, money and belongings to charity. Can his siblings challenge his will?

Plus: What if you’re incapacitated? How to get your advance directives in order

-Morey Stettner


(END) Dow Jones Newswire

10-15-22 0856ET

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