Make the Time to Draft Your Last Will and Testament

We all know what a will is, but in writing this post one thing jumped out at me – the word “will” itself. Will is an odd word for depicting one’s last wishes for their worldly goods. Perhaps it denotes “will” as in imposing your will or your wishes even after death. Just because you are gone doesn’t mean that those left behind can trample your wishes and have their way with your possessions, or dole out your belongings as they see fit rather than as you would want. You still have rights and that’s where your will comes in.

Simply put, a will is a legal document that spells out who gets your personal possessions after you die, along with guardianship for your pets and minor children. It’s a rare family that loves one another enough to spread the money around fairly on their own, and the one you’d least want to leave anything to is usually the one who fights the hardest to get the most. Your legal will is all that stands in their way.

Your will should protect those you care about the most, from those you care about the least. A will should be designed to protect the honest heirs who treat others equitably, from the dishonest heirs who sneak in and grab your valuables under the cover of darkness before anyone else knows what you left hidden in your drawers.

With this in mind, my husband and I have been talking about making a will for ten years. It’s so easy to put off, to delay, to put on the back burner for another month waiting for that perfect moment to lay your life down on paper with instructions. We even had free software that would let us draft a will in the comfort of our own home, but did we take advantage of the opportunity? Nope.

We had the best intentions, people always do, but we were healthy and full of vigor with a lifetime ahead of us. That’s no reason to delay, however, as everyone’s days are numbered and you never know when your number will be called. The concept of an unexpected “time’s up” is really starting to hit home as we watch people who are younger than us die off from cancer, heart attacks, accidents, and other sneak up and getchas.

We’re also at an age where our parents, aunts and uncles are passing away, so we’re seeing firsthand what happens when there is no will, or when the will is written in such a way as to allow the Executor to commit hanky panky. The Executor is the person in charge of carrying out the wishes of the willmaker, and is chosen by the willmaker while making out the will. You’d think that the hand-picked Executor would be someone who the willmaker trusted, but you’d be amazed at what happens when you aren’t around any more.

Old grievances rise to the surface. Old grudges are rekindled. Everyone looks at their own needs and how your estate can save the day. They look at the other heirs with jaded eyes of why those heirs are undeserving and shouldn’t get anything. Greed can so easily justify the redivision of your assets in the eyes of an Executor who might have treated you right in life, but won’t necessarily treat your other heirs with the same respect after your death.

You’d be amazed at how your best intentions can go awry in the hands of a greedy Executor, or by whomever is the first one to enter your home and grab your valuables before anyone else even knows you’ve passed away.

Unfortunately, it’s the norm rather than the exception, which makes me very sad, and we’re looking at our own estate through the eyes of our heirs. If we died right now without a will, what would happen? The result would not make us happy. The law would not distribute our assets in a way that we’d want them distributed.

We’re living in a world of divided families, divorce, remarriage, ex-wives and ex-husbands, half-brothers and half-sisters, kids with multiple fathers and step-fathers, families who live at opposite ends of the country, families who may be close by blood but not much else. This creates a petri dish of emotional and legal wrangling after your death, pitting step-kids and ex-spouses against one another.

Then there’s our pets. Without a will to name a few people who we’d hope would adopt our pets, they could end up in a shelter to be euthanized. That would be horrible and would haunt our spirits for the rest of eternity. Suddenly, writing a will becomes even more important as our bodies are breaking down with age, and we feel the doom and gloom of our passing as it marches boldly toward us.

This year I decided it was time to put the foot down and get the job done. No more procrastinating. No more waiting until we have time. You just never have time so you have to make time for the tasks that you consider important.

We’d waited so long that our free software was outdated, so I researched will-making software and settled on Quicken Willmaker, which was highly rated by several trusted reviewers. Unfortunately for me, the actual software is only for Windows so I was relegated to my husband’s computer for the job, as my computer is a Mac.

I was very pleased with Quicken Willmaker. It turned an intimidating task into a fairly simple and straightforward task. I created a first draft and printed it out to see how the final will would read, and tweaked several specific bequests for better wording. As I’d designated quite a few individual items to bequeath to specific individuals, it made for a long list in the will, and I consolidated as much as possible so that each beneficiary would end up with a single paragraph describing their inheritance. Originally I’d listed each item separately, so instead of laying it out item by item, I changed it so that the final will was divided into paragraphs one for each heir, also known as a beneficiary.

The one place that tripped me up was the “pets” section. I would have liked to list several layers of alternate guardians and it did not allow for more than two. The first of course was my husband, and should he die before me or us die together as in an accident, then one alternate. As my first choice for an alternate is our own age, meaning that they aren’t spring chickens any more, there’s no predicting whether they’ll be around or able to take on the dogs, so I had three alternate choices in mind, in a specific order.

Some of you are probably wondering why not just choose a younger guardian as the first choice, but they are all at an age where they are starting families. Where last year they were all about their dogs who were numero uno in their world, now it’s all about the kids they are having. I don’t know where this leaves dogs in their lives for the next 15 years, so I question the choice of a guardian in that stage of life. Our dogs are accustomed to being top dog in the house, not relegated to a pen in the far corner of the back yard, so where they end up is more important to me than where my life savings goes.

One way of adding the alternate guardians would have been to list them all equally as co-beneficiaries in the hopes they’d peacefully work out who adopted the dogs. The Quicken Willmaker help docs did not recommend this option, as it could create a legal hassle if they technically all owned the dogs together.

If I had a copy of Adobe that allowed me to edit the exported PDF file that Quicken Willmaker produces, I might have been able to alter the will manually, though I’m guessing that Quicken saved it in a format that wouldn’t allow such an edit for legal reasons, so I came up with my own rather clunky workaround.

Each dog had a first and second guardian appointed as allowed. A third entry for “future dogs” did the same, otherwise only our existing dogs would be taken care of and dogs we adopted in the future would be flapping in the wind.

Then I created another pet entry to spell out alternate guardians should the ones listed be unable or unwilling, and worded the description of the “pet” to describe my wishes and intent in great detail. Hopefully the law will recognize, understand, and uphold the additional entry.

Otherwise, the will maker software from Quicken was awesome. It had many more options than I was expecting and made the whole process straightforward. It even allowed me to spell out my wishes for what to do with my body including cremation, burial, scattering or storage of ashes, obituary, ceremonies for each phase, and so on.

I would highly recommend Quicken Willmaker. My advice to you is to make the time to legalize your final wishes so that your descendants and beneficiaries won’t be left squabbling. Spell it out as clearly as possible so that those you leave behind can focus on comforting one another, instead of battling with one another. The power is yours, right now today, to make sure your death doesn’t tear your family apart. So make the time.

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    One Response to Make the Time to Draft Your Last Will and Testament

    1. youjizz says:

      If you want to leave a gift to charity but have already made a will, there are a couple of easy ways to make changes. However, the simplest way is to write a new will. Once written, your new will makes any other wills you may have created in the past null and void. In fact, most new wills will clearly state that you are revoking any previously written wills. If you prefer not create an entirely new will, then you have the option of a codicil.

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