CHICAGO (AP) -- As Americans reorder their financial priorities in the wake of Sept. 11, writing wills and putting estates in order have risen on many to-do lists.
Attorneys and financial planners around the country report a surge of requests for wills since the attacks. Demand for life insurance also has climbed.
''I've never seen anything like this,'' says Sherwin Simmons, a Miami attorney who specializes in estate tax planning and has been in practice for 47 years.
The closest comparison, he says, was the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when ''everybody was scared to death'' and interest in obtaining wills temporarily rose.
While it's too soon to document it, anecdotal evidence suggests this increase is deeper and will be much more enduring, particularly with no end in sight to the war on terrorism.
Approaching two months since the attacks, a check with estate planning experts in several states found demand for wills still significantly above pre-Sept. 11 levels. Interest was highest among young couples and the middle-aged, including the nation's 76 million baby boomers, although some said it was evident across the board.
For Rebecca Antonelli, 38, the attacks ended years of procrastination. The Raleigh, N.C., resident had known for years she ought to have a will, particularly since her 1997 divorce had left her a single mother to her three children.
Thinking about the 5,000 people who died unexpectedly in the World Trade Center, she wondered how many didn't have wills, and how many children they left behind. A will became a top priority, and she had one within two weeks through a legal service.
''I realized for the first time, very keenly, my mortality,'' she says.
While she assumed her children would be well cared-for by family members, she was determined to get her wishes concerning both her kids and her money in writing.
''You face questions you don't really want to ask. But I realized for the first time that it has to be done,'' says Antonelli, who runs a public relations firm. ''It's not just something you want to do -- it's something you need to do.''
Before Sept. 11, people typically sought wills for one of three reasons, according to New York attorney Amy Holtzman, who specializes in wills and estates: They were about to have an operation or a child or take a long plane trip.
The World Trade Center attacks brought home the fact that everyone is vulnerable, she says, since those who died were from all walks of life. ''People identified with that, as opposed to victims of other crimes. These were just ordinary people, and it's very, very hard to differentiate yourself.''
Financial and estate planners have long cautioned will-less clients and prospective clients about the risk of unintended consequences. Dying without a will, or ''intestate,'' means your property will be split up among survivors according to the laws of your state.
That means a single person's assets go to the parents or, if they're no longer alive, are equally divided among all siblings. For the married, everything goes to the spouse; if no spouse survives, it's divvied up equally among next of kin.
''It's been a common lecture over the years, but the response has been much better over the past month,'' says Timothy Schannep, a certified financial planner in Tucson, Ariz.
Vivien Chang, an estate planning probate attorney in Seattle, had grown accustomed to having young couples ask about estate planning and then not following up for months, if ever.
''Now the response time is much quicker and I have clients insisting on coming 'this Thursday' ... or asking 'Is there any way you can fit me in right away?''' she says.
One client came to her in mid-October and wanted to make changes to her will before taking a trip to Europe.
The trend extends beyond the United States -- and beyond wills.
National Direct Response Marketing Canada Inc., which sells legal will kits for Canadians through television advertising, said sales more than doubled in the weeks after the attacks. Insurance.com, run by Fidelity Investments, reported a 68 percent increase in the number of quote requests for life insurance as of five weeks later.
Planners and agents also have been flooded with questions about travel insurance. And a Boston firm that writes ''ethical wills'' for businesses -- ways of passing on a business owner's experience, values and work ethic to the next generation -- says business is up sharply since Sept. 11.
''A lot of people are superstitious, or avoid that kind of planning because it's an unpleasant topiic,'' says Holtzman. ''But clearly everybody is going to die. ... They should just take that extra step.''
Free estate planning information at Nolo Press: http://www.nolo.com
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