by Jeanne C. Hoff
Any feelings of anxiety you may have talking about these things now are tiny compared to the feelings of regret you’ll have if you don’t.” — Dr. Phil McGraw
Ed. Note: Jeanne Hoff, 73, is the author of the book, “Between Now and Then: A Common-Sense End-of-Life Planning Guide for Baby Boomers (and the rest of us),” published in 2013 after more than 12 years of effort. Although she is not a lawyer or financial planner, she compiled many of the things she learned from the experts into her reader-friendly book. Hoff recently conducted a five-part series (based on the book chapters) at the William Jeanes Library in Lafayette Hill
Q: Do most baby boomers have a will, as far as you know?
A: No. They think they’re going to live forever.
What are the most common mistakes people make with respect to planning for the eventual end?
Poor communication between you and family, between you and the professionals. Poor record-keeping. (Many lawyers make good money cleaning up the messes.) Refusal to take appropriate and timely actions. Don’t want to pay a lawyer’s fee (refusal to think of it as an investment). Indifference. Practicing do-it-yourself law. Not understanding your money. Not connecting financial-planning actions with estate-planning actions. Refusal to talk about anything relating to end-of-life planning so they ignore it until it’s too late. Doing nothing.
In addition to preparing a will, what are the most important things one can do to prepare for the end?
A Living Will and Healthcare Power-of-Attorney are MUCH more important than a Will. Why? Because the Will does not go into effect until after your death, but a Living Will acts for you during your lifetime. Without a Living Will, you cannot hope to get the kind of medical treatment you want for yourself in extreme end-of-life medical situations.
Most people who give this kind of advice are either lawyers, financial planners or insurance salespeople; in other words, people with a financial interest in giving the advice. Why are you doing it?
Because once I heard that 98% of all estate plans fail, I figured that I can reduce that number by educating people. The professionals seldom take the time to genuinely “educate” their clients in a give-and-take conversation. Because I am NOT one of the professionals (I worked with them for many years and learned from them), I speak the language of the lay person. I translate “legalese.” I speak to readers in a conversational way so as not to intimidate them. Many people are intimidated by lawyers, financial planners and insurance salespeople because the professionals speak “down” to them in a language the average person doesn’t understand, using fancy words (“annuity” is a good example) that frighten people, but the people are not comfortable asking for an explanation that they really understand. In the book, I tell people to require the professional to explain things to them until they thoroughly understand it, and if they refuse, get another professional.
Can you give me an example of someone you know who did not make the necessary plans and what the consequences were after his/her death?
Oh, gee, only ONE? My book is full of such stories, and I have had personal experience in one way or another with them all. Once upon a time there was a man who owned a house in his own name. Ownership of the house was never put into joint names with his wife, as were all his other assets. Why not? Because the actual “owner” of the house (that is, as compared to the “legal” owner) was a deadbeat, with a long history of bad credit practices, low credit score and an enormous list of judgments against him, but he nevertheless wanted a house to live in. He could not legally buy it by himself, although he did have the money to buy it. He was a very nice man in every respect other than how poorly he handled his own personal finances.
The man who occupied the house was paying for it by giving the legal owner money every month, as if it were a real mortgage payment. (Let’s not speculate as to the source of his income.) This good friend (that is, the legal owner of the house) suddenly died without a Will. He left behind a wife and several adult children. What a mess it created in his family! His wife knew about this other house but had absolutely no idea of the legal consequences of her husband’s ownership of that house.
The wife, not having even the most basic understanding of the probate process, thought she had inherited the house because she was the surviving spouse. But under the intestate laws of her state, she only inherited a portion of the ownership of the house. She couldn’t understand why she owed inheritance tax on the value of this house. After all, didn’t the house “technically” belong to that other man? Why shouldn’t he be made to pay the inheritance tax?
The fault lies with the husband who thought he would live forever, thought that he had plenty of time to take care of his personal business, including writing a Will. His wife was left mourning, upset, angry, confused and financially damaged. She incurred substantial income loss when her husband died, to say nothing of the expenses of his funeral and estate administration, for which NO planning had been done. In a very short time, she incurred a lawyer’s fee of $11,000 for work he did for her after she realized she was in over her head. It was money she did not have. It will take years before this mess is resolved, if it ever is. See what can happen when a man thinks he’s going to live forever?
Is this your full-time occupation?
If you mean writing, the answer is yes. Secondary to the writing is the process of educating people through workshops, etc. Not sure I would call it an “occupation” because I have yet to earn any money from it.
“Between Now and Then: A Common-Sense End-of-Life Planning Guide for Baby Boomers (and the rest of us)” is available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, eBay, BuyBooksOnTheWeb.com or from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hoff is also available to speak to local organizations about end-of-life issues.