I hope the document remains locked away unused for many years, but my brother and I finally got around to meeting with a lawyer and helping our mother make out her last will and testament.
I’m not going to knock it if you download a cheap do-it-yourself template from the internet, but don’t be surprised if your Hummel collection winds up in the hands of a Nigerian prince!
Yes, a professionally prepared will is the second-best way to make your explicit wishes known to your family, surpassed only by letting the Houston Astros pick up on your signals and relay them. (“Mom wants me to get the antique chest of drawers — or a curveball. Can’t quite make out the banging.”)
Dictating a will is one of many things that well-meaning folks procrastinate about. That’s why so many wills — after the kicking and screaming subsides — start out with “I leave to my eldest son my collection of batteries, which I never got around to putting into the smoke alarm. And his sister gets the closetful of pristine dental floss!”
People don’t relish slogging through all the minutiae and legalese of a will. Those who get their jollies discussing “appurtenances,” “codicils” and “testators” probably didn’t produce many heirs, anyway. Lots of restraining orders, but not many heirs.
Most of us live in denial of our own mortality, but it’s not just the person leaving an estate who slows down the process. No one looks forward to the headaches that go with being executor and paying “all my just debts.”
Creditors invariably crawl out of the woodwork before the ink on the obituary is dry. (“AhemOn its way to the out-of-network emergency room with the deceased, our ambulance did pass up three walk-in clinics, a faith-healing church and a Boy Scout feeling pretty darned confident about his fifth attempt at earning his first-aid merit badge.”)
Of course, a well-prepared will should include a clause about “being of sound mind and disposing memory.” Granted, this claim comes into doubt when the items bequeathed include “my collection of tin-foil hats and my autographed picture of the Yeti.”
Yes, people supposedly have their wits about them when they first make out a will; but revisions apparently kill brain cells, if all those murder-mystery shows are accurate. (“I thought you’d turned over a new leaf, but you’re still a total disappointment to me! I’m writing you out of my will! Here, hold this heavy blunt object. I’m going to descend the long, winding, grease-spattered staircase and drive the car — the one you adjusted the brakes on — to my attorney’s office!”)
A will is not a cure-all for quelling family animosity, but at least the state won’t come in and divvy up your property in ways you never imagined. (“Here is $75,000 from your great-aunt. While we’re at it, we’re going to seize your AR-15s and give you a voucher for a charter school.”)
We tried to be comprehensive with our mother’s paperwork. Besides the will, we also had the lawyer draw up documents for financial power of attorney, medical power of attorney and a living will.
Stop making excuses and get the paperwork done. You’ll derive priceless peace of mind from having all the bases covered.
Even if the Houston Astros know you have all the bases covered before YOU do.