Carolyn was 96 years old and had a lovely three bedroom home filled with antiques passed down from previous generations. It was obvious that Carolyn and her predecessors had taken great pride in these heirlooms because they were in immaculate condition. She had done everything right: she left all items in their original condition, she knew the history and stories that went with each piece, and she kept them out of direct sunlight and away from the heat vents.
I met Carolyn six months prior to her passing. Her 2 children were present, and everyone wanted to know the values of Carolyn’s possessions from her mother’s and grandmother’s estates dating back to the 1850s. Earlier, the children had spoken with me privately and told me their mother had not prepared a will and asked me to impress upon her the importance of doing so.
As I examined each piece, I spoke with Carolyn about the importance of making out a will so she could determine what would happen to all of these valuable antiques, but Carolyn was adamant. “I don’t need a will. I’ve written on a piece of notebook paper my wishes for my children, and that’s good enough. If it isn’t, then they can just fight over it.” And so they would. The children looked at me and grimaced. They knew the complications that awaited them if their mother didn’t draft a legal will: potential years of red tape with hefty attorney fees.
Carolyn eventually passed away peacefully, but there was little peace for the family. No one ever found the handwritten note, so it became a game of “Mom said I could have this,” and “No, she promised that to me.” Sadly, it was years before the estate was settled, and no one was happy with the outcome.
I wish this story was the exception, but in my experience, it is the norm. According to a Harris Interactive study, 55 percent of Americans have not bothered to see an attorney to prepare a will. Have you???
How different would Carolyn’s passing have been for her family with a little more preparation and a visit to an attorney to make everything official!
© 2010 Julie Hall