Though Kenneth Feinberg is thought of mainly as the man tapped, time and again, to administer victim compensation funds following high profile public events, he has a thing or two to say about estate planning. In the March 26, 2015 New York Times special supplement “Your Money”, Feinberg discusses lessons learned in “Money Admonitions From 9/11”. He notes that over half of those who died on 9/11 had no life insurance and no wills. The 9/11 fund offered free financial advice to everyone who received compensation. Yet only 78 (yes, seventy-eight) out of 5,300 eligible claimants took advantage of the offer.
I’d say that’s an indicator of how hard it is for so many of us to talk about death, money, inheritance, and legacy.
Feinberg himself updated his will, bought more life insurance, and — most important in my view — communicated with his family. He said in the article that in some cases “angry siblings, parents and relatives declared war with one another over the victim’s assets and argued over the 9/11 fund compensation.” Hoping to avoid that kind of conflict, Feinberg ensured that his wife and three children understood “who gets what by providing each of them with a detailed memorandum listing all of my assets and an explanation of how my wealth should be distributed after my death.”
Families can easily find themselves in conflict over money. Talking about it can reduce the likelihood of conflict, its severity, and its costs.