When my parents died, one of the first things we did when we got to their house (after we secured the firearms that were left on scene and glanced at the partially covered up crime scene with grim faces) we went in search of a will.
Surely we could find that with relative ease. Of course it would be in the gun safe. That’s where it had been when we were kids, why change?
Only it wasn’t.
It wasn’t in their dresser drawers, it wasn’t on top of their freezer, it wasn’t in any filing cabinets and it wasn’t besides my mom’s bed in the stack of other important paperwork.
We looked for the will for days. What did they want us to do with all this stuff? Who was supposed to get what? How do they want us to handle the money? Who gets mom’s wedding ring? What about the coin collection and Nanny’s old ring and Dad’s guns and the pool cue we’ve had for years and the paintings that have been in the family for decades and Mom’s watermelon collection? What about the angel that sat on top of the tree for the entirety of growing up?
We were at a loss. Eventually we had to give up and realize that while they’d had a will at one point, it hadn’t been something they had kept up with. I found tax returns from 1987 and 1992 and lesson plans from the mid-90s when Mom was teaching Missionettes… but no will. For either of them.
In their case, with minimum property and no children to distribute, my parents lack of will only caused a few disturbances. I can’t imagine the legal battle over who would have taken us kids (there were 5 of us most of the time, that’s a heavy burden to give someone) or how things would have been dealt with as far as the costs of raising us if that had happened to us 15 years ago.
If there is one thing I can tell you (other than making sure to have some cheap landline in case you need to call 911, see post here) it’s that YOU NEED TO HAVE A WILL. ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN.
Think about it. If you don’t have a will, you give up your right to decide what happens to your property (including your children!) after death. Maybe Mom had wanted me to pay off her car and keep it for myself? I didn’t know that, and I gave it back to the dealership. Maybe Dad didn’t want Jake to have his truck, maybe he wanted Jean to get it. We don’t know. We had to guess.
If you have any sort of property that means anything to you (especially if it’s titled property like a house or a car) then for the love of your loved ones: get a will. If you have children and you have someone specific in mind that you’d like to raise them in the event of your death: get a will. If you want a say in what happens to your money after death: get a will. Even if you don’t have titled property, but you do have some family heirlooms that you don’t want to go to one person and you want to make sure go to this other person who will take care of it: get a will.
Is it sinking in? I hope so.
Legal Zoom has declared August as National Make-A-Will month. I urge you – plead with you – do yourself and your loved ones a favor. Legal Zoom has amazingly reasonable prices on wills – get one, go down to a UPS store and get it notarized. Put it somewhere safe and tell 4 or 5 close friends or family where to find it. Scan it into your computer. Share this with your friends, your family, and pass on the message even if you already have a will. Don’t leave your after-death wishes unknown. The gift you will be giving to your surviving family is worth the small investment now.