My friend Steve, who had a neighbour going through the hell of a recent death where there was no will, suggested I write this post following my essay on doctor-assisted suicide (February, 2015). I got caught up with other ideas, however Steve was right. Wills are vital although families can still go through hell when a will does exist. If well thought out however, and done with the help of a lawyer, a will can be a blessing.
Money is easy to divide, but siblings may quarrel over possessions of real or sentimental value and never speak to each other again anyway. Why is that? And why so often? For one, they say we choose our friends but not our families. It may also be because when a parent dies, we are in mourning. We mourn if our relationship was fabulous, or because it wasn’t. We all carry baggage. Perhaps we were not the favorite child, or some other complicated familial issue exists.
Severing ties with siblings we may never have felt close to is easier after a parent’s death, especially when YOU wanted that dish or cup or ring. True, wills can’t fix everything, but they are necessary. I have one and update it every five years — family situations and laws change. I strongly believe all wills require the help of a lawyer and your own input. Lawyers know the questions to ask.
Millions of older folk will keel over and leave an unprecedented amount of shekels behind. Who gets yours matters and should be up to you. In spite of our wealth, it is estimated seven out of 10 seniors haven’t bothered to draw up a will. If you are one of the millions who will die intestate (without a will) you will have no control of the distribution of your estate. No matter how long you live or how young you may be, unless you’re related to Dracula, you do need a will. My advice? Do it now.
In a will, you can appoint an executor to handle your affairs, or a guardian to care for very young children (with the chosen guardian/s knowledge and agreement, of course). With professional assistance you can combine estate planning with philanthropy, as well as benefit from tax advantages by organizing charitable programs beforehand. Community non-profits enrich our lives in more ways than we realize. Its easy to take such services for granted, but governments keep cutting back and alternative sources of funding are drastically needed. (Consider using ‘Leave a Legacy’ if it exists where you are.)
Try to specify who you want to have which possessions, even those of no great value. This can avoid battles later. Better still, try to give your children things they like while you are still here — this is something I’ve been trying to accomplish. I no longer entertain much and don’t use or need some of the things I used to. Every time I send my visiting offspring home with something, I feel lighter.
And one thing more, be kind. Clear out as much of the stuff you’ve accumulated during your lifetime as you can. It will make things easier for those you love at what will be a difficult time. Friends who have had to deal with huge amounts of possessions after losing a parent often tell me how painful it is for them.
Enjoy your life’s adventures to the fullest, have as many pleasures as possible, and do your best not to leave a mess behind.