Definitions of a "good Massachusetts father" are as varied as there are goodfathers, but one thing everyone agrees with is that a good father is a responsible person. A father takes care of his children and keeps, to the best of his abilities, the world around his children in working order. Responsibility is the backbone of parenting, and in a society such as ours, where definitions of masculinity are entwined with notions of leadership and authority, a father is expected to leave no loose ends, nothing overlooked.
Why, then, do so many men who are otherwise great dads turn into shrugging, uncertain, and fearful teenagers when they are faced with the basic life task of arranging their wills and creating solid estate and guardianship plans for their children? According to lawyers and legal experts getting fathers into their offices to make even the most basic wills or simply have conversations about what happens to their children after their deaths, is extremely difficult.
The reasons why fathers avoid making wills appear, at first, to be rather silly and overtly superstition driven (If I prepare for my death, I will die, the magical thinking goes). But it's more than that. A deeper look reveals that many fathers delay estate planning for a variety of complicated reasons, many of them only half-understood by the men themselves.
For instance, many men feel that wills are only for people who have a lot of money to leave behind, and/or since their kids get along well, why bother?2
According to a recent survey, only 36 percent of U.S. parents with children under 18 have wills or living trusts in place.
Many fathers do what their own fathers did, or very much the opposite. If you grew up in a household where estate planning and wills were discussed openly and not considered taboo subjects, you're likely to behave the same way as your own family begins to grow. And sometimes having a father who was difficult about his will prompts men to do a better job when it's their turn.
Many are of the opinion, "nobody wants to spend time with lawyers and no one thinks they're dying tomorrow. They think it will cost too much money and lawyers are all crooks. Or, men say it won't be their problem because they will be dead."
This is not nonsense, because the statistic are alarming.
Between 50-75 percent of all adults in the U.S. do not do any estate planning. Of the 25-50 percent who do, only about 40 percent of those have properly updated and appropriate documents. That means that only about 10-20 percent of the U.S. population has a good estate plan right now.
Only 42 percent of all U.S. citizens have any kind of legal document pertaining to their assets and desires should they die or become incapacitated and unable to make such decisions.
Estate planning does not have to be expensive or complicated. Not doing it, however, can be exactly that.
I remind anyone who plans to die without a will or estate plan that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or the state they live in will dictate the estate plan for them after they're dead. And those laws are one-size-fits-all format and are unforgiving.
To parents, I say this: children require planning. In most cases, a will is the only document where a parent can put forward a name to be the guardian of minor children. Failure to do that will lead to a free-for-all in court."
Some parents avoid making wills because their fathers did not have wills, because the practice was not modeled for them. Other fathers avoid making wills because they don't see the point, don't think it's worth it, or have no time or use for legal formalities. These are understandable if flimsy reasons. Most people dislike fuss and most people avoid unpleasant tasks.
But what if there is something in the very identification as a father, in the social norms we've built around what being a dad, that prevents men from taking care of, literally, the business end of being a parent?
According to studies on male avoidance, in particular those that examine how men put off their own health, men's core concepts of masculinity impede their progress with necessary adult tasks. As a study published by the American Sociological Association noted, middle-aged men who strongly idealize masculinity are almost 50 percent less likely than other men to seek out preventative medical care.
Swap "preventative care" for "estate planning" (which is nothing more than legal preventative care), and the avoidance makes perverse sense. Many fathers want to present a role model-worthy ideal of masculinity to their children, to be the kind of dad they had or wish they had had. But at the same time, most traditional presentations of masculinity stress that the father figure can never convey weakness, uncertainty, nor the need for help.
Asking a father who aspires to be an upright, strong, and reliable dad to abruptly step away from that role and candidly talk about death, the ultimate vulnerability, well, it's a mixed message request, to say the least. And so men avoid visiting their lawyers.
The mundane reasons fathers give for not making after-life plans are a symptom of a larger problem: men not wanting to admit they are vulnerable and, more so, not display vulnerabilities to others.
New fathers need to embrace the simple truth that just because something feels emasculating, it does not mean it actually is emasculating. Being prepared for uncomfortable realities is masculine too.
Many men reported that once they actually got around to making wills, they felt not only a great sense of relief, that which comes from checking off a big box on the life list, but also that they were better fathers. Better because they did not let their vulnerability triggers stop them from being smart.
A properly drafted estate plan provides instructions for taking care of you and your loved ones during your lifetime and distributing your assets upon death. no matter how much money you have. It allows you to distribute your assets to whomever you want, when you want, and how you want, with a minimum of fees, taxes, and court involvement.
It also names one or more people of your choosing to serve as Guardian of your minor children, and sets forth instructions for how your children are to be raised, if something were to happen to you.
A simple estate plan often consists of the following:
- Health Care Proxy - this document names an agent and gives that agent instructions regarding medical decisions if you are not able to make these decisions yourself.
- Durable Power of Attorney - this document names an individual to whom you give general or specific authority to make decisions on your behalf if you aren't able to.
- HIPAA Authorization - this permits another person to gain access to your medical records.
- Last Will - a notarized and witnessed document that should be updated when your circumstances change.
An estate plan will give you the peace of mind that your affairs will be in order no matter what life has in store for you and your loved ones. It is always better to put plans in place in a methodical and careful way with expert legal advice, rather than to act hastily in reaction to a crisis.
The Law Offices of Renee Lazar offers reasonable and affordable fees for drafting estate planning documents.
Call 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation to discuss your needs.