As late as this morning, I had no plans to post anything remotely related to estate planning through the end of the year. Who wants to think of this topic in the midst of the holidays? Isn’t it too sensitive a time and space? How about some joy and cheer?
Not to mention the superstition aspect. Some of us seem to believe that if we talk about our wishes after death, we are tempting fate and just might speed up the process. As a friend in her late 50s said to me the other day, “Oh no, don’t even tell me about doing my will, because I won’t listen. It freaks me out.” Others have the same latent fear but won’t mention it. They just shy away.
Americans don’t appear to be a superstitious lot at first blush. Yet we are, as is evident from all of the Facebook posts about what we were doing on 12-12-12, or even at 12:12 on 12-12-12. Not only is it inexplicably comforting to have a round number, but it marks a point in time that is not easily forgotten. It is like a hallowed space, albeit with secular sensibilities. A day set aside. Special. Almost magical.
First there was 1-1-1. Then 2-2-2. Then 3-3-3, 4-4-4, 5-5-5, 6-6-6, 7-7-7, 8-8-8, 9-9-9, 10-10-10, 11-11-11… and today, 12-12-12, the last of the consecutive numbers that any of us will probably see in our lifetimes, since there is no 13th month.
So here I am. On 12-12-12, in the midst of Chanukah and shortly before Christmas. Writing with even more conviction that I should address superstition in this holiday season, rather than ignoring it. There is great wisdom to be had in the process.
On the one hand, I am inclined to put on my lawyer’s hat and state that the concept of inviting death by planning for the inevitable is unreasonable. The idea that we can remain immortal by ignoring our mortality should be saved for young children who, we hope, have not been hit with any of life’s abundant reality checks. We do not tempt fate by planning for contingencies. We live in a state of preparedness, freed from latent fear, by doing so. We take the latent fear, make it present, and then deal with it.
Yet old habits die hard, if you will forgive the pun. And reason, often the fail-safe of lawyers, is not the only or highest human virtue. I can’t simply implore you to excise superstition because, by its very nature, superstition does not live in the realm of reason. Even further, as human beings, our minds and hearts are so complex and interwoven that it is not so easy to unravel certain parts of them without unraveling the whole (metaphorical) sweater. If we unravel the superstition, what else will we find hidden there?
I wrote “latent” fear above, as I believe that we live much of our lives with deep hidden concerns from which we can only be freed if we address them. Once we have found that state of openness, of letting everything in, we no longer need to grasp at “trying” to “stay happy” by ignoring the concerns. We find inner peace, because we do not need to push away thoughts that scare us. We have examined them and found that we can live with them. In fact, we do and must live with them every day.
So I tread lightly. I ask those tough but important questions. As you continue through this holiday season, how can you live more deliberately? Are there latent concerns that you can bring into your present moment, so that you can be freed of them in the New Year? Whether it is planning your estate, getting a cholesterol check, reconciling with a family member or any other task that may seem emotionally unsurmountable, what can you button down so that when the exceptional moments of life are actually upon you, there is no paper tiger waiting in the wings?
Rather than sweeping them under the rug, clear out those fears, finish those tasks. Joy and cheer will surely follow, with great abundance, whatever the season.
This post is the first in an occasional series about the interplay of law and everyday life. (It is obviously written to the average person, not those who rushing to use their $5.12 million lifetime gift tax exemption before the end of the year.) If you prefer cold, hard legal facts, you will find them elsewhere on this blog.
Anne Marie Segal is admitted to practice law in New York and Connecticut.