Scared to Make a Will? Advice On How to Do It (Without Freaking Out)

Lindsay Goldwert
October 16th, 2020 | 7 min

You know you have to make a will. You know all the reasons why it’s important. And yet, you keep putting it off. Why? Um, because thinking about your eventual death is terrifying and uncomfortable. In fact, recent data shows that 60% of Americans die without having a will in place.

Making a will is scary -- but there are ways to change your thinking around estate planning so you can stop fretting and just get it done.

We spoke with Patrick Hicks, the Head of Legal at Trust & Will, on how to broach the topic of making a will (without having a crisis around your mortality).

Why are people so scared to make a will?

It’s okay to be scared. But the fact that you're uncomfortable doesn't mean you should delay doing it. It means you're uncomfortable that you haven’t done this thing that you know you should do.

Look, there’s going to be anxiety anytime people start thinking about death and their own mortality. But there's also this feeling of a loss of control. People can think, “I’ve worked my whole life to build assets and care for my family. And suddenly I'm no longer around. Who can fill those shoes?” If you're worried about losing control, that’s the reason why it’s so important to make a will.

This is particularly true when couples have young children. So a lot of the things that people worry about are actually the very reasons they should be making a plan.

When do most people suddenly realize that they have to make a will?

Sadly, a lot of people start thinking about their own estate plan after having gone through an experience where someone they know passed away and didn’t have a will or a plan in place.

Watching someone go through a horrible or stressful experience or having to deal with it in your own family is probably one of the leading reasons that people first start thinking about these things.

Say I die without a will. What can happen?

Most have laws that will provide a default option. And a lot of people think that’s fine, that everything will go to their spouse or their kids. But if you really dig into the law in your state it might not go that way.

For example, if you have a spouse and two kids, instead of everything going to your spouse, the state law default may say that your assets go one-third to your spouse and one-third to each of your two kids. And so suddenly you don't have a spouse who owns your home. So yes, it all goes to your family, but it doesn't go the way you want it to go.

What are some misconceptions that people have when they think about having to make a will?

A lot of people think that making a will is something that only old people have to think about. Others think that estate planning is only for the wealthy. But wills aren't just about your house, your property, money, and assets. There are other important things that every adult should think about.

A will lets you specify your final arrangements, which can include things like organ donation (to some extent) and your burial instructions. Everyone has some affairs that need to be wound up after death and no matter how small you think they may be.

If you have minor children, you’ll need to nominate a guardian. And that's incredibly important for any parent who has a child. I mean, I have a two-year old and I know my kids' relationships with my family members, and I know who would be the best caretaker. They court doesn't know that.

How should I approach estate planning and making a will?

If you’re going to speak to a lawyer about drawing up a plan, there's a lot of questions you should ask. First of all, you should ask how much your lawyer focuses on estate planning, because there are a lot of attorneys who pick it up to supplement their main sources of income. Estate planning should be something that they specialize in.

You want to talk to someone about how you can achieve your goals and objectives. Do you want your money to all go to your spouse? Who's going to care for your kids? It should be a conversation with the ultimate goal of creating a plan that reflects your wishes. There should be questions that the lawyer will raise that you haven't thought about. Honestly, if that doesn't happen, it could be a red flag.

Another red flag is if your attorney can’t look at the documents and answer specific questions about where your wishes are specified and indicated.

If I don’t have kids, do I need a will?

In my opinion, for 20 minutes time and a hundred bucks, you and your partner can buy a little peace of mind. I personally and professionally believe everyone should have a will in place, and that there's no estate that is too small or too simple.

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