The Perils of Postponing an Estate Plan

I had a client for several years whose business I helped guide through substantial change and growth. It was a successful venture and my client was forward-thinking with regard to his business. Once or twice I asked him whether he had an estate plan and he responded, “I’ll get to it when I have time.”

One Friday night around 9PM I received a call from his wife. My client was in the hospital having been diagnosed with end-stage pancreatic cancer and his days were numbered. She asked me whether I could draft an estate plan for them right away. My first question was “Is he mentally competent?” She responded that he was too weak to speak but he understood what was said to him.

I sent her an intake questionnaire asking that she complete it immediately. I received the questionnaire on Saturday morning and went to work drafting an estate plan for the couple right away. I delivered it to the hospital later that day but the hospital staff would not let him sign it because they asserted that he could not understand what he would be signing.

His wife informed me that he was being transferred to hospice care that Monday (if he lived that long) so I advised her to gather two witnesses and call me once all were assembled at the hospice facility.

Monday night, I drove to the hospice and spoke with my client who asserted that although he was weak, he was fully competent to sign the documents. We proceeded with the signing and witnessing and when I left his wife had a fully executed and valid estate plan.

Sadly, my client died two days later.

This fire drill would have been avoided had my client prepared an estate plan when he was healthy, but we all put off those things that we believe can wait for another day, or are just too uncomfortable to deal with.

When a potential client signals discomfort at creating an estate plan, I always ask “Do you have life insurance? Why is that not uncomfortable since it becomes effective only when you die?” An estate plan is a form of insurance: it insures that your heirs receive what you want to give them and that if you need long-term or critical care that you have someone to convey your wishes to your doctors and ensure that they are respected.

It is rarely quite as dramatic or sudden as the situation I outlined above, but it is quite common to have clients coming to me in some form of “panic mode” – possibly a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s, some other health scare, or the prospect of imminent long term care needs. Perhaps the child they had always been relying on to deal with the estate after their deaths unexpectedly died, and there was a sudden need to find a professional executor or trustee.

For every person who gets a wakeup call and completes a plan in a hurry, there are many more who never do. Less than one-third of Americans have any kind of estate plan in place, and the consequences can be severe, including unintended disinheritance of spouse and children, added tax burdens, and most of all, the delay, cost and public nature of probate

PLEASE don’t delay. Call Agins Law Firm, PLC at (480) 401-2660 to begin your estate plan today. Those you love will thank you for it.