It’s New Year’s. Revelry, champagne toasts, traditions like eating lentils or black-eyed peas at midnight, looking past at 2017 and forward to 2018 and, of course, resolutions. If you don’t have a resolution, I have a suggestion, albeit one that is somewhat sobering (pun intended). Make 2018 your year to write a last will and testament or update the one you already have.
A cousin of Martin’s recently put a query on Facebook asking if friends had a will. I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, when most answered they did not, or had not updated their will in years. One stated she only had one heir, assuming everything would go to that person. We had a saying when I was in banking, “If you don’t have a will, the state has one for you.” If you die intestate (without a will), state law determines who your heirs are.
Case in point, a 72 year-old man lost his wife to cancer. She died intestate. State law where he lives dictated that their two children each inherit a third of her assets including the house, which was not titled to protect her husband. Her husband, their father, had to sell his home in order to pay the adult kids their portion of the inheritance. All the proceedings were determined by a probate judge, requiring court costs and attorneys.
More money was spent on the costs of going to probate court to settle her estate than would have been spent on writing a will. In the state where I live, probate court can be avoided altogether by putting assets into a trust, saving as much as 10 – 20% of the value of your assets. And, no, the kids didn’t blink an eye at dear old dad having to sell his home to pay them their share. He and his wife just assumed everything would go to him — a costly mistake both emotionally and monetarily.
Why don’t people write a will or update the one they have? As someone who didn’t update for years, my personal experience tells me it is a reluctance to face our mortality. It wasn’t until Martin’s condition jolted me into reality that I looked death in the eye and got serious about the consequences for either of us when the other dies.
In addition to a will, other considerations are powers-of-attorney for health and financial oversight in the event you can’t make your own decisions. Do you want to be kept on life support or would you want a do-not-resuscitate order? These are also decisions to ease the burden on loved ones so they can carry out your wishes instead of guessing about what you may want, arguing among themselves or having to go to court. Whew!
Wait there’s still more! To reduce the burden even further, you can leave detailed instructions for your funeral. Or maybe you don’t want a funeral. My mother didn’t want everyone standing around looking at her body and crying over her in a coffin. She chose to be cremated immediately upon her death. Our family respected her instructions. You may even pre-pay your funeral expenses or designate an amount in your will to be used for that purpose.
See? There are lots of decisions to be made. Someone once told me they didn’t care because they would be gone. In other words, they were leaving it for the relatives to sort out while also grieving. To me, that’s just plain cruel, especially if you love those you leave behind.
Mark Twain, the American author and humorist, had this to say about New Year’s resolutions, “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving Hell with them as usual.” That pretty much sums up the way I was when it came to resolutions. Consequently, I stopped making them. If that’s you or even if it’s not, commit to 2018 as the year you make just this one resolution — and keep it – write a will and other documents for the sake of those you love. It is the best gift you can ever give them.
Happy New Year!