As a young seminarian, I was instructed to write my first will. Since I was a young man at the time, with few worldly possessions – soccer cleats, athletic socks and a watch – I could not understand why I needed one. I did not worry about funeral expenses because the Columbans would give me a decent funeral and bury me where ever I was on mission when the time came. The will I made was very, very simple, and I thought I was done with the whole mess.
More than twenty years passed, and our then Superior General instructed all of us to review our wills and update them if we had not done so recently. When I reviewed my original will, I laughed at the inadequate and out-of-date ‘legal’ document. Over the years, I had lost the watch and had no idea what became of the soccer cleats and athletic socks. I had accumulated other personal possessions, however, when my Aunt Winifred left me a bit of money and her husband’s Claddagh wedding ring. Unfortunately, Aunt Winifred did not have a will and her estate went to probate, which took months to reconcile.
During my tenure as the Planned giving Office for the Columban Fathers, I have gained valuable experience about wills. According to Consumer Reports magazine, as many as 66% of Americans are aware they need a will but do not have one. And, among those who do have wills, many are out of date or defective.
While there is no legal requirement that a will be drawn up by a lawyer, there are pitfalls associated with the do-it-yourself version. Since at the time a will comes into effect, the person who made the will is not available to explain him or herself or to correct any mistakes, there is little room for error. Seeking the advice of an attorney will help you avoid the mistakes that might invalidate your wishes.
Many people put of making a will for as long as possible. They can find numerous reasons to avoid the issue, including:
- It’s too expensive.
- I don’t know a lawyer.
- My estate is too small.
- I’m not ready to die yet.
- I don’t’ have time right now.
- I’ll do it later.
Among the notables who died without a valid will (or no will at all) are Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Howard Hughes, Martin Luther King, Jr., Tupac Shakur, Kurt Cobain, Buddy Holly, Lenny Bruce, Billie Holiday, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Cass Elliot, Sonny Bono, Tiny Tim, Karl Marx and Pablo Picasso. If you have not yet written your will, you are in good company! However, a will can do many things for you and your beneficiaries.
- It affords you the opportunity to put your affairs in order as a faithful steward of the goods God has given you.
- It is a way to express your love and thoughtfulness to those you leave behind.
- It can guard against complications or serious problems for your family, especially if you have dependent children.
- It can ensure that your wishes are fulfilled.
- It can conserve your assets, limit the costs of probate, and reduce or even eliminate estate taxes.
- It can give you peace of mind knowing that your temporal affairs are in order.
- It can help you donate to deserving causes with a bequest.
Some wills are quite simple while others are exceedingly complex. Your will should reflect the decisions you have made and the ideas you want carried out by those you leave behind.
Having spent so much time with wills, their beneficiaries and their executors, I drafted a booklet, A Practical Guide to Writing a Will. You might find the booklet helpful as you begin the process of writing (or updating) your will. To receive a free copy, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the coupon below and return it to me.