Blog, Estate Planning

When There’s a Will, There’s a Plan


In times of stress, loss, or chaos, having an estate plan prepared can make a world of difference for our loved ones. A will or estate plan is an invaluable tool for centralizing all of your family’s important information in the event they need to speak for you or without you, but putting that plan in place can feel overwhelming.

At Aspen Wealth, we are here to coach you through the process and help you overcome the hurdles associated with estate planning. End-of-life planning is so important, and it turns out that a significant number of Americans do not have a will in place. We uncovered some staggering statistics recently:

– 32 percent of Americans age 65 and older don’t have a will
– 86 percent of Americans age 30 or younger don’t have a will

So, clearly, avoiding writing a will or securing an estate plan is not unusual. Let’s look at the importance of having a will, why so many people avoid this important responsibility, and how to go about getting one.

Why End-of-Life Planning is So Important

End-of-life planning can be complicated and a little scary, which could be one reason so many people don’t do it. But putting off this important responsibility comes at a cost for far too many.

If you ever wake in the middle of the night troubled about what will happen to your children if something happens to you, concerned your ex may still be the beneficiary named on your 401(k) plan, or worried whether or not your spouse would be able to keep the house when you’re gone, it’s time to put a plan in place.

Even if it’s not keeping you up at night, it’s a good idea to have a will so that any assets left behind go to the people or organizations you choose – and not to legal fees, taxes, and selected heirs chosen by a probate judge.

After musician Prince died without a will in 2016, Gallup conducted a poll and found the majority of Americans don’t have wills. Gallup reported that:

– 32 percent of Americans age 65 and older don’t have a will
– 86 percent of Americans age 30 or younger don’t have a will
– 45 percent of Americans with an income of $75,000 or more don’t have a will
– 39 percent of Americans with postgraduate education don’t have a will

In 2018, The Washington Post reported that Prince’s six heirs felt concerned that “at the end… there will be little if anything left to pass on to the heirs” due to the high cost of estate administration. Because Prince didn’t leave a will stating his wishes, administration fees and court costs nearly drained his estate.

Not everyone has an estate the size of Prince’s, but we can all learn from the unenviable state of his estate. Because this issue comes up so often when speaking to people about their financial planning, we looked into the reasons as to why people tend to avoid estate planning.

Why People Avoid Estate Planning

Most often, people avoid getting their estate documents done because the estate planning process can be complicated, and a paid professional is needed to execute the plan. Another big reason is that people don’t like discussing death. (Who does!?) Creating a will requires you to make some important decisions and can often become emotional, so it’s not easy to put it on the top of your to-do list.

In a Senior Living Blog post, elder law attorney Stuart Furman reveals a number of reasons why people avoid estate planning.(1)

– First off, estate planning isn’t easy. It requires thoughtful decisions about who should receive what and why.
– Second, people don’t want to pay a financial planner or an attorney to draft and execute an estate plan, even if the plan will save money in taxes and legal costs over time.
– Third, people fear giving too much authority to others, such as adult children, who could make poor decisions about a parent’s care.
– And lastly, people avoid discussions about death. No one likes to look potential mental incapacity or mortality in the face.

There is a downside to avoiding estate planning, though. The momentary relief procrastination provides often is overshadowed by negative feelings and heightened anxiety and stress.

How to Overcome Estate Planning Obstacles

It’s true that estate planning isn’t easy. It costs money, and discussions about death are difficult. One way to get past some of the common obstacles to estate planning is to work with a trusted financial advisor who can coach you through the process.

An advisor can:

– Ask questions that will help clarify your thinking about how to divide your estate
– Recommend options that help meet the goals you set for your estate
– Facilitate meetings to communicate the plan to your family and other heirs
– Coordinate with your attorney, accountant, or any other advisors to put your plan in place
– Review the plan and make recommendations required over time

In other words, a good advisor can help with many aspects of planning to make sure the plan you want is the one put into place.

Your Wish is the State’s Command

Having an estate plan and will in place offers peace of mind and ensures your wishes are honored. Throughout history, people have made inheritance choices that are inexplicable to others. In 1926, Harry Houdini left his magician’s equipment to his brother, his pulled-from-the-hat rabbits to the children of friends, and a series of random words to his wife. (The words were a code that were to let her know when he was in touch from the afterlife.)

In 1968, Quaker State Refining Corporation heir Eleanor Ritchey left $4.5 million to her dogs. She had 150 of them. The will was contested, and by the time it settled, the value of the estate had increased to $14 million. The 73 surviving dogs received $9 million.

Radio and television funnyman Jack Benny set aside a significant sum of money so that his wife would receive one long-stemmed red rose every day for the rest of her life. In a similar vein, in 1970, Janis Joplin bequeathed $2,500, “so my friends can get blasted after I’m gone.” Today, the amount would be equal to more than $16,000.

While these examples are odd and entertaining, it is something to think about. In addition to ensuring your major assets are distributed according to your wishes, maybe you want to leave your fishing gear to your nephew, make certain your best friend’s daughter gets the jewelry she always compliments, or you’d like for your car to be donated to a domestic violence shelter. After all, these treasured items could end up lingering in storage, forgotten, and collecting dust if you don’t create a plan for what you want to be done with them after you’re gone.

At Aspen Wealth, we want to help you overcome common hurdles to end-of-life planning because including an estate plan in your comprehensive financial plan ensures your estate won’t end up like Prince’s one day. With the proper estate planning documents in place, your estate will be in order, and your wishes fulfilled.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

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