Wills and Won’ts
Why Some of Us Don’t Have Wills (But Should)
After I made a Last Will and Testament, I threw it in a drawer and never looked at it again. I was unemotional about the entire process and, thinking back, maybe it was because a part of me thought the inevitable would never actually happen. W.C. Fields shared a similar sentiment as he was dying. When asked why he had started reading the bible, he said, “I’m looking for loopholes.”
For those of you who are a little more pragmatic, writing and keeping a will updated can be of vital importance, especially for friends and family who will want to make sure that your final wishes are carried out. This process becomes even more important as we tack on the years, yet, surprisingly, more than half of adults in the 55- to 64-year-old bracket do not have wills. And according to Forbes, the number is even higher for women in that age group. Common reasons why some of us haven’t dealt with this necessary document are what you might expect:
1) it doesn’t seem urgent;
2) a will isn’t necessary;
3) avoidance of the thought of death; and, overwhelmingly,
4) the fact that most just haven’t gotten around to making one. One Wilton resident also mentioned that a new will was on her long list of things to do after an unexpected divorce, but “after going through the divorce process I wasn’t too eager to step into another attorney’s office.”
The reasons for inaction are plentiful, outnumbered only by the abundance of anecdotes online, detailing the bizarre extent to which some people will go in order to have their last wishes met. Harry Houdini, for instance, required that after his death his wife hold a séance every Halloween and wait to hear the ten secret words he had given her so that she would recognize his reappearance. She never did hear from or see him. Ordinary people have also become famous because of their wills. Thomas Shewbridge, a California prune rancher, achieved notoriety when he left his estate and 29,000 shares in the local electric company to his two dogs, who, after his death, regularly attended the stakeholders’ and board of directors’ meetings.
Closer to home, Wilton resident John Rich, a “Mad Men”-era advertising executive, wine connoisseur, and dedicated jazz drummer, requested a New Orleans-style Jazz group play at his funeral. His wish was fulfilled, and a lively jazz trio led mourners from the funeral service at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church into the reception area where there was a full raw bar and excellent wine. The event became a joyful celebration of a life well lived.
There are some sound reasons why a will is important in Connecticut. According to Paul Burnham from Wilton-based Gregory and Adams, P.C., “If you have assets but no will, then the probate court will get involved, and everything will go to a surviving family member in a way that you might not have in mind.” If there’s no spouse, the assets go to the children. If there are no children, the state outlines about ten different scenarios for the division of assets, which may in no way reflect your wishes. “If not this, then that,” becomes the equation, and the slow grinding probate process begins.
Perhaps you haven’t drafted a will because you’ve been too busy making money. If you’re assuming that your spouse and children will automatically get your vast fortune, keep in mind that the state of Connecticut may impose a tax on a portion of those assets, which could come as a big unwelcome final gift to the family.
And finally, for those of you who think that drafting a will might shave precious hours from your life, fear not. A will doesn’t take a lot of time or paperwork to prepare as long as it’s not complicated, and the invaluable payoff is peace of mind. It’s never too late to get started.
Final Wish List Tips
Have a lawyer look at your will at least every five years. Most of us will forget what the document says in three years.
Without an estate planner, typos are a real possibility. Take, for instance, the man who left some money to “the protection of cruelty to animals.”
Choose the Right Executor
Take your time appointing this person. It’s a responsibility more than an honor.
Let your family members know where you have filed your will.
This is not the time to tell someone how you really feel about them.
Rely on Brotherly Love
Siblings may not be able to sort out assets themselves, especially when emotions are high and money is involved
Make an alternative version for fun
This is not legally binding and confuses the process, so keep it formal and traditional.