Some superstitions are harmless, like knocking on wood, carrying a rabbit?s foot or believing that if you get on a plane with your right foot, the plane won?t crash. I do this last one myself. Silly, but harmless.
Many superstitions fall into a different category where they affect other people and cause difficulties for them. 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 complete the process.
Ed and his wife Cynthia, worked with an attorney to set up their estate plan. Ed signed all the documents except for one – the durable powers of attorney. The papers have been sitting on his desk for over a month.
Cynthia is angry and feels helpless because of Ed’s continued delay. She feels like a hostage to Ed’s superstition that if he signs the durable powers of attorney papers, which are necessary to complete the process, God is watching and will snuff him out.
If Ed can’t make medical or financial decisions for himself, Cynthia won’t be authorized to act on his behalf. Unless Ed signs the papers giving Cynthia the power to make those decisions, his adult children from his first marriage will be calling the shots, not always in Cynthia’s best interests.
?Ed signed the other papers but won?t sign the durable powers of attorney” Cynthia says. “He assures me 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.?
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, I discovered in interviews that many men intentionally leave loose ends in their estate planning. Some men procrastinate; others have great intentions, but ‘forget’ to fund the trust. Most eventually get around to completing the process, but usually cause themselves and their wife unnecessary anxiety and frustration.
For example, William just kept ?forgetting? to fill out the papers to fund the revocable trust he and his wife Lila had set up. The lawyer reminded them that until a trust was funded with all their assets, the trust wasn’t legally in place. Consequently, 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. Ed’s lawyer offered to do it if Ed was busy. Ed refused and said he’d prefer to take care of 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.
Wouldn’t we enjoy being that powerful. 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 in case they die.
Helga Hayse is author of “Don’t Worry about a Thing, Dear” – Why Women Need Financial intimacy. She teaches women about participating and understanding their marital finances. She teaches financial and legal professionals how to stimulate legacy planning through Conversations from the Heart.
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