What Human Behavior Tells Us About Estate Planning
By Michael Babikian
Humans are great at avoidance. We don’t want to experience pain, be faced with unpleasant facts or deal with anything we consider to be too far in the future.
Evolutionary psychologists say there’s an innate reason for that. According to this new-ish field of study, our brains haven’t evolved much past a Stone Age mentality where survival was our chief concern. So then it makes sense that we would eschew threatening situations and defend our existence.
When people think of estate planning, they think about death – the ultimate threat. As creatures programmed to secure survival, considering and planning for our demise is more than a little counter-intuitive. It’s counter-survival. Knowing this, you could start to understand why more than half of Americans don’t have the essential estate documents in place, according to a recent article in Forbes.
I recently read a blog by Seth Godin that seeks to explain the connection between human behavior and how we prioritize our list of to-dos. It validated everything I hold to be true about why this industry has struggled to market itself and how I think we can change that. In his blog, he posits that, in order for people to prioritize a certain problem in their life, the problem must be visible, painful, non-chronic, solvable and shame-free (among other things).
We have to be able to see and identify it, be motivated to act by pain or some negative stimulus, and believe we can do something about it without feeling stupid in the process.
Historically, our industry hasn’t met any of these criteria. The need for life insurance and estate planning feels far away and therefore is not visible or painful. Life insurance and estate planning have long been overcomplicated and overwhelming, leaving people feeling incapable and inept. Still worse, the need to create an estate plan feels chronic, a nagging issue people can’t solve and seek to avoid.
But we can change the narrative. In the digital age, estate planning has become about more than just the systematic disposition of assets upon one's death. This is the definition I was taught in law school, otherwise known as a will, but it’s bigger than that now.
With bank and email accounts, social media and other digital assets scattered throughout cyberspace, it has become vital to find a way to tether our assets to us. There’s an immediate benefit to spending time on organizing our financial lives, and that’s the peace of mind of knowing everything we have is accounted for. It’s intrinsically satisfying, much the way people feel after they Marie Kondo their closet. Except instead of purging our assets, we can bring them all together under one virtual roof.
With a comprehensive planning tool, complete with compartments for every aspect of life – personal and financial – all of us can benefit from being able to dip into any account or profile with the touch of a button. Anytime, anywhere. We can see our full financial picture at a glance. We can capture stories and memories, and build a living, breathing legacy. Remember, our legacy is about more than the money we leave behind. It’s sharing the values and valuables with the right people at the right time.
By framing legacy planning as part of our lives, we change the story. Estate planning becomes visible, solvable and non-chronic. It becomes something people embrace rather than avoid. And, just like that, we’re able to help people tackle that nagging problem of organizing their lives and, ultimately, creating a legacy for their loved ones.
Michael Babikian is founder and CEO of LegacyShield. He may be contacted at [email protected].