Some superstitions are harmless, like knocking on wood, carrying a rabbit’s foot or hoping that if you get on a plane with your right foot that the plane won’t crash. I do this last one myself. Silly, but harmless, unlike other superstitions that are serious and affect other people.
For example, the millions of husbands who are superstitious about estate planning and therefore, refuse to do it. Or do it partway but won’t sign all of the papers. Like Ed, whose wife Cynthia, is held hostage by his superstition.
Ed and Cynthia have been married for 35 years. He’s been a good husband and father loves her dearly. But he has this quirk – he believes that if he signs the durable powers of attorney papers which are part of their estate plan, God is watching and decide it’s time for Ed to die.
Because Ed won’t sign the necessary papers, Cynthia won’t be able to act on his behalf if he can’t make medical or financial decisions for himself. His adult children from his first marriage will be making those decisions unless he signs the papers giving Cynthia those powers.
“Ed signed the other estate planning documents, but won’t sign the durable powers of attorney,” she said. “He says he will, but when I remind him that the planning isn’t complete unless he does sign, he accuses me of nagging. He knows it’s not rational, but he says it makes him feel better. Even though I understand it, I feel like a hostage to his superstition.”
Is there any difference between that kind of thinking and not walking under a ladder, wearing garlic around your neck to protect you from vampires or crossing the street when you see a black cat?
When I was researching my book “Don’t Worry About a Thing, Dear”, I discovered in interviews that many men left loose ends in their estate planning and procrastinated about completing the process.
For example, William just kept ‘forgetting’ to fill out the papers to fund the revocable trust he and his wife Lila had set up. Their lawyer explained that, until their financial assets were transferred into the trust, the trust wasn’t considered a legal entity. That meant that if something happened to William, the trust couldn’t provide Lila with the legal or financial authority to act as the trustee.
When I interviewed William, he said he’d been busy, had other things on his mind and just never got around to it. He intended to make the transfers as soon as he had a minute. Yes, the lawyer had offered to take care of it, but he preferred to do it himself.
Meanwhile, Lila’s hands are tied because he doesn’t want her to take care of it either. “My husband’s friend had a fatal heart attack on the tennis court the day after he and his wife signed their living trust,” she said. “You try convincing my husband that the same won’t happen to him.”
Superstition is a powerful, if irrational and usually subconscious, belief that keeps many men from taking action to protect their wife in case they die. It presumes a causal relationship between something we do or don’t do and the outcome of some future event.
My husband died 30 days after our estate plan documents were signed. Was there any connection between that and his death? Am I so significant to how the universe works? Of course not.
If only we had that kind of power. If only we were the center of the universe, where what we do matters on a cosmic scale. It’s comforting to think that a higher power is watching and rewarding or punishing, waiting until all the papers are in order and everything is signed before taking us away.
It sounds so simple and silly, but this kind of thinking is real and widespread. Unfortunately, superstition impacts the lives of too many wives whose husbands won’t follow through with the necessary arrangements to protect them.
Please have your husband read this. Legal and financial consequences operate in the real world. Good intentions don’t count; drafts of legal documents don’t count. If you’re not protected by signed and witnessed estate plan documents, none of the planning you did with your husband counts.