Theories In Action: Mortality Salience and Estate Planning

Mortality salience occurs when an individual becomes hyperaware of their own mortality. They are much more aware of the possibility that they or their loved ones could die than they typically would be. Mortality salience often occurs after a traumatic event. One example of this was the national American response following 9/11. Even though there have been many wars in American history, few have actually occurred on American soil. The 9/11 attacks were a brutal reminder to Americans of their mortality that could be stripped from them at any moment. This prompted them to crave a leader who could provide protection and stability. This was President G.W. Bush who spoke confidently when promising Americans that justice would be served and they would be safe once again. While this event was incredibly traumatic in its own way, I found myself drawing parallels to the COVID-19 crisis during my internship. The pandemic currently overtaking the world is making individuals aware of their own mortality. The possibility of becoming ill or a loved one becoming ill is constantly on our minds. We are reminded of it when we turn on the news, put on a mask, or work from home. Even though there is only so much we can individually do to keep ourselves safe, we are aware that there is still a possibility of illness and want to do whatever we can to prepare.

At my internship I worked on estate planning for Asurest’s clients. Part of estate planning is creating legal documents such as wills and medical directives. These documents lay out a secure plan for clients should they become ill so that their wishes are carried out and their loved ones are protected. Clients who were creating a will or a medical directive may have been unconsciously desiring stability provided by Asurest when the COVID-19 pandemic induced mortality salience. As a result, I was able to see how leadership occurred in the workplace during a crisis to best serve the needs of clients by providing legal protection. This internship experience brought leadership theories like mortality salience out of the classroom and into the real world.