“When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer.”
– Stevie Wonder
Early in my career as a lawyer I had a client who called me because she wanted to make her Will and powers of attorney. I provided her with the information that she needed and asked her when she wanted to meet to give me instructions to prepare the Will. She told me she would get back to me.
I put her on what I call my “hound list” – a list of people I follow up with from time to time who have expressed interest, but not yet retained my services. From time to time I would send my client a friendly reminder encouraging her to set up an appointment with me. Each time, she would say that she was ready to go, and that I should call her. When I called her, she would tell me that she really wasn’t ready yet. This happened three times. On the third time I asked her what was holding her back. She literally hung up the phone on me. I was wondering if I had been rude, or had said something wrong.
A few days later I received a phone call. “Steve”, she said, “I want to tell you the reason that I have been delaying making my Will.” The panic and anxiety in her voice was clear. After a fairly long pause she said “I’m going to die”.
I was immediately upset and worried. Was she sick? Was there urgency to get this done for her? As delicately as I could I asked, “Are you sick?”
“No.”, she replied, causing me great confusion.
“Is there another reason you are going to die?”
It turns out that she wasn’t going to die – at least not imminently. She grew up in a family where you simply did not talk about death. It was a taboo subject. The belief being that if you talked about death, you were inviting death. In essence if she made a Will, she believed that she would die shortly after. She even had an anecdotal story of an aunt who wrote a Will, and died within a month.
People’s beliefs are people’s beliefs. Something that may seem completely irrational to one person can make complete sense to another person. I get it. Death is not a fun topic. It makes people uncomfortable. It is mysterious. It is painful. And many people want to avoid talking about it.
I am not fond of having people on my hound list, and it is not only for business reasons. People on my hound list have expressed interest in making their Will. I am aware of the problems that are caused when people die without a Will, or lose capacity without having powers of attorney in place. I feel a very strong responsibility to encourage people to follow through once they have contacted me. Whether they use my services, or someone else’s, or even do it themselves, I don’t care. Just as long as I know that they have taken care of this important step.
I used a rational approach.
“Mrs. Smith”, I said (name changed for confidentiality reasons), “Did you know that more than half of the people in Ontario do not have Wills?” She did not know this.
“Well”, I said, “that means that less than half of the people in Ontario do have Wills – and most of them have lived long, prosperous lives, even after making their Will.” She laughed. A tension was broken.
“When you say it that way, it seems so silly”.
To me however, it did not seem silly. Just frightened and scared of the unknown. Once she was able to confront her fears, she was ready to go.
In my experience most adults know they should have a Will and power of attorney. There are three basic reasons they delay.
- Superstition/Psychological Readiness
- Concerns about Costs
- Concerns about Time
There is little that I can do except encourage those who are not psychologically ready to commit to making their Will.
Regarding costs there are free resources all over the internet for Wills and powers of attorney. If you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself, you should be able to find a lawyer to prepare a basic Will with a consultation for a very reasonable rate.
Making your Will can feel overwhelming and stressful. I totally and completely understand that. This is why The Law Office of Stephen Offenheim (planyourwill.ca) is committed to making the process easy, and understandable. To set up a free telephone consultation please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. No question will be left unanswered.
The Law Office of Stephen Offenheim
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