I decided long ago that I would die first (of a heart attack while yelling at young people) and Maggie would die of sadness the next day. That part of our estate planning was sorted. I was worried, though, about the state of my will, which I’d scrawled on the back of a hotel receipt after an all-nighter before deploying to Afghanistan. Inexplicably, it quoted Enya at length.
Fortunately, one of my oldest friends was a lawyer who specialised in wills. His face would light up when he delved into the morbid details of estate planning.
Will-Shaming for Fun and Profit
On explaining my will situation to Motown (long story for another time), he launched into an expletive-laden tirade on how irresponsible, neglectful and poo-headed I’d been by walking around in the shadow of the angel of death with only a hotel receipt for a will.
With sigh in his voice, Motown began my education. Shockingly, back-of-receipt-based wills sometimes don’t hold water in the eyes of the law. That can mean the government decides who your estate goes to when you croak.
If you live in Australia, your estate is divided using archaic formulas that probably won’t resemble anything like your final wishes. There is little prospect the formulas will anticipate you bequeathing that embroidered pillow collection to Mr Spanky the cat.
When Wills Won’t
Dying with an outdated will can be worse than dying with none at all.
In some countries marriage can invalidate the will you drafted when you were single. If you’re divorced, and haven’t updated your will, your estate could go to that shit-heal ex of yours (I’ve gone ahead and assumed your ex is an asshole). New babies or the death of a beneficiary in your will can invalidate it.
Take Motown’s advice. Get yourself a will and keep it up to date.
I hear you all saying, “Sure, Meantime Guru, that’s easy for you to say with all your millions of dollars and head-turning good looks, but we don’t have a down payment on a Mercedes Benz Tosser 3000 to give to an over-educated, will-shaming lawyer.”
I hear you. Let me share with you Motown’s inside word.
Do You Really Need a Will?
Technically, if you got hit by a bus tomorrow and scrawled your final wishes on the pavement in your congealing blood, a court can accept it as your will – if your lawyer is as good as Motown.
You may want to get onto it a little sooner, though. If your finances and family situation are uncomplicated, you could use a $30 do-it-yourself will kit and stash it with a trusted family member.
If your life has been a little more complex than being born, surviving puberty and getting hit by a bus, then you need a proper will.
It’s part of good financial planning.
A lawyer-drafted will is tailored to your circumstances and covers financial aspects you may not have considered, such as minimising tax on your estate or setting up a trust fund for your kids. Lawyers can also include in your will your final wishes. Here’s an actual paragraph from my newly minted will:
Maggie’s ex-husband, Mr Fucky McFuck-Snout [Ok, I haven’t used his real name], is under no circumstances allowed to access any funds in the children’s trust, regardless of the children’s age or circumstances. Should Mr Fuck-Snout request funds from the trust, he should be quickly and violently struck in the ballsack with all the lawyerly disdain and vitriol you can summons. He should be told, “That one’s from [me]”. He should be charged your maximum hourly rate.
Wills are one of the most commonly neglected parts of financial planning. We assume we’re going to live long lives, and that we can always draft our wills next year…
But what if you’re wrong?
100 Reasons Why You Need a Will
Here’s a list of bizarre ways people have died over the years.
This one really struck a chord with me: In 1983, Jimmy Ferrozzo, a bouncer, died in the Condor Club, San Francisco, while having sex with his girlfriend on a grand piano that was lowered from the ceiling by a hydraulic motor. Ferrozzo hit the wrong button and activated the lifting mechanism, which then crushed him against the ceiling.
As a Gen Xer, I can really relate to this one: In 1975, after watching the “Kung Fu Kapers” episode of The Goodies, Alex Mitchell laughed continuously for 25 minutes before dying of heart failure.
You get the picture. The Reaper can come for you anytime. Get a damn will.
What to do next?
Try this: Find an old bank account you’re no longer using and transfer $25 a week into it for a year. Put an event reminder in your calendar for one year from now. Call the event “Book Meeting with My Overpaid Lawyer to Make My Will”. Throughout the year, resist the urge to relabel your reminder “Put Down Payment on Kick-Ass New Hot Tub”.