Stop procrastinating and get an estate plan—here’s how to get started

You know you need to create a will, but you keep putting it off – it’s difficult to think about dying and about who will take care of your family after you have passed away. But if you’ve only scribbled some notes or considered which lawyer to hire, you risk dying “intestate” — without a will that could guide your loved ones and would likely save them both from family fights and from losing money.

Financial planners say getting people to stop procrastinating on estate planning can be tough. Here is advice from several of them offering their best strategies for helping clients to get this done.

Remember whom you’re doing it for

Certified financial planner Katrina Soelter of Los Angeles recommends thinking of an estate plan as “the best love letter you can write to those you love.” Providing your loved ones with guidance on what you want to happen after your death — and who you want to care for minor children or pets — is a huge gift to those you leave behind. You’ll likely also be saving them the costs and delays of hiring attorneys to sort out your estate.

Soelter says she procrastinated on her own estate planning and has found that the positive approach works better than browbeating.

“It doesn’t help to heap more shame on them, but rather focus on the reasons why it is wonderful to get it done,” Soelter says.

Visualize what happens without a will

In some cases, people need to consider the worst-case scenarios before they’ll act. Financial planners often point out, for example, a court could end up deciding who takes care of your kids without an estate plan. State law also determines who inherits your stuff, and that distribution may not be as you would want.

CFP Janice Cackowski of Rocky River, Ohio, says one of her clients recently died after ignoring her advice to create a trust. His will bequeathed his estate to his financially irresponsible son, with no restrictions.

“The money my client saved over his 63-year lifetime will be gone within 18 months of his death,” Cackowski says.

Keep it simple

CFP Kevin Gahagan of San Francisco notes that getting a basic estate plan in place may not be as complicated or expensive as you fear.

“It is the attorney who does the work,” Gahagan says. “They’ll guide you in identifying the questions you need to answer so a plan can be developed.”

CFP Karen E. Van Voorhis of Norwell, Massachusetts also recommends just planning for what you would want to happen if you died in the next five years instead of trying to create an estate plan that covers all future possibilities. You can always update and change things.

Use employee benefits

A lot of big companies offer their employees access to attorneys through prepaid legal services, says CFP Amy Shepard of Mesa, Arizona.

“For most people, the biggest thing stopping them is money,” Shepard says. “If their employer offers a legal benefit, it can make the process of doing an estate plan very affordable and very simple.”

Affordable options for those whose employers don’t offer this may include online services such as Rocket Lawyer and LegalZoom, which are best for people with simple situations, such as those who don’t have a lot of assets and who don’t need trusts, Shepard says. It is important to note that users need to answer the sites’ questions carefully and get the resulting documents notarized, or the paperwork won’t be valid.

Set a timeline

Van Voorhis also suggests making an appointment with an attorney now but scheduling it for a few months down the road.

“That way it’s on the books and they’ll feel like they’ve accomplished something, but they also don’t have to face it for a while,” she says.

CFP Mike Giefer of Minneapolis recommends incremental deadlines.

“By Oct. 1, have the conversation about guardians, charities and other estate intentions. By Nov. 1, have the initial meeting with an estate planning attorney. By Dec. 1, clarify and confirm the documents and have them signed before the holidays,” Giefer suggests. “On Jan. 1, 2020, they are done!”

Setting a timeline that is broken down into steps can help the process of creating an estate plan feel less daunting.

For help creating your estate plan, contact us at Wilson and Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC, 708-482-7090 or