ANNAPOLIS – With terrorist attacks, anthrax scares and a looming war dominating the news daily, more Marylanders are starting to think about the future – by writing their wills.
“People have realized that they are not immortal,” said Jay Eisenberg, a lawyer at Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy and Ecker in Rockville. “The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have jump-started people.”
Several Maryland lawyers and county will registers have seen an increase in people interested in composing or filing their wills for safekeeping.
The number of people seeking Eisenberg’s advise about wills or estate planning has increased 50 percent since September, he said.
The terror attacks haven’t scared people into thinking they will die, but made people realize they won’t live forever, he said.
Before Sept. 11, only about 25 percent of the population had a will and about half of those are invalid or outdated, Eisenberg said.
The number of wills the Montgomery County register has received for safekeeping has almost doubled, said Joseph Griffen, head of the department.
“I think (the increase) is going to continue,” he said. “More young people are coming in,” particularly those in their 30s and 40s.
Calls have also been coming recently from groups interested in will preparation.
“I have had a number of phone calls, and I have spoken to several senior groups,” he said.
The Pentagon approached the Montgomery County Bar Association about offering free legal services to military personnel and terror victims’ families, said Eisenberg, chairman of the association’s estates and trust subcommittee. The group is waiting for word from the Pentagon about families they can help, he said.
“We remain ready,” Eisenberg said, adding that 45 law firms have agreed to donate their services.
The number of wills brought into the Prince George’s Register of Wills has also significantly increased in the last months, said Lynn Loughlin Skerpon, the county register.
In September, 64 wills were brought in, compared to 105 in October. “That looks like a huge jump, but overall if you combine the numbers, it’s not that large,” she said.
Last year, 179 were brought in during September and October. They expect more in the coming months, Skerpon said.
The September dip, she said, may be because fewer people have been taking vacations, a time when a lot of people file their wills.
Overall, awareness of estate planning has increased since the terrorist attacks, she said.
“I really do encourage people because it’s not just a matter of aging,” she said. “You just never know.”
The terrorist attacks have pushed inquiries about estate planning or trust establishment up 20 percent at the Frederick-based Farmers and Mechanics Bank, said Randy Hodson, vice-president of the trust and investment division.
“It’s not uncommon that when you’re meeting with someone that you turn and have a discusssion about the terrorist attacks or anthrax,” he said. “It’s an underlying factor.”
There’s been no increase in will preparation at Joseph, Greenwald, Laake in Greenbelt, said lawyer Timothy O’Brien, however clients are rushing to complete documents already begun before the attacks.
“It’s always something prudent to get done,” he said. “But people are more likely to die in car wrecks on the way home from work today than are to die in a terrorist attack.”
More people may be seeking his help for estate planning in the future, he said.
“I think it’s going to take time,” he said. “I think (the attacks are) going to heighten awareness.”