William Shakespeare said, “A good play needs no epilogue.” When a story is compellingly told, in other words, there is no need for commentary after the curtain falls.
Like a play that is well written, a life that is well lived speaks for itself. But living well includes knowing that you have planned for what happens after you are gone. This foresight includes how easily your estate will be passed down to the people you care about.
Have you written a will that names someone to settle your estate? If something were to happen to you, do you know who would receive your assets? If you have children, have you appointed a guardian to look after them and a trustee to manage their inheritance?
If not, the commentary on your life could well include tales of confused intentions and mismanaged assets, of hurt feelings and squandered wealth. Fortunately, all it takes is a phone call to an estates and trusts attorney to make your epilogue your own.
Sheltering in place during the Covid-19 pandemic has left many of us with time to think. As news outlets keep an anxious tally of each day’s deaths and new infections, it is natural to consider how well prepared we are for the unexpected.
What would happen if I got sick? Who would have the right to take care of me? If the end came suddenly, how would my final arrangements be handled? Who would inherit my assets and settle my estate?
These are difficult questions to grapple with under the best of circumstances. In the midst of a global health crisis, they take on a new sense of urgency. Preparing an estate plan is your opportunity to answer these questions decisively—and to enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’re ready for whatever lies ahead.
Fortunately, in some ways it’s now easier than ever to work with a lawyer and have your planning paperwork drawn up. Here are three new options to be aware of during this difficult time.
Fans of the comic strip Peanuts might remember a panel in which Patty and Violet are planning a party.
“Let’s not invite Charlie Brown,” Patty says.
“OK, we won’t invite Charlie Brown,” Violet replies.
“And let’s not invite Lucy,” Patty continues.
“Fine. We won’t invite Lucy,” Violet agrees.
Then, looking up from her list, Patty exclaims, “It’s a lot more fun not inviting people than it is inviting them!”
The impulse that prompted Patty’s remark can also apply when writing a will. The crazy aunt who makes homophobic remarks? She’s out. The estranged brother who refused to attend your gay wedding? He gets nothing.
All joking aside, deciding who should inherit from you requires careful thought. The most important people in your life should of course top the list. Your partner or spouse, your children, or anyone you hold dear ought to be remembered in your estate plan.
But what about those people you specifically don’t want to attend the party? The best way to keep your assets out of their hands is to have a current estate plan in place. At a minimum, this would include a will or trust, a durable power of attorney, and an advance medical directive. If you don’t have a will, your disapproving relatives might inherit from you under the laws of “intestacy.”
Your will or trust should specifically mention the people you wish to disinherit. Including their names will make it clear that they were intentionally omitted and not simply overlooked.
Your Last Will and Testament is probably the most important document you will ever sign. It’s the one item that simply must be located when the need arises. It says who will settle your estate and who will inherit your worldly goods. It can also nominate guardians for your children, appoint trustees, and disinherit hostile relations. Where should you keep such a vital document? Probably not where you might think.
Wills are decidedly low-tech instruments. Despite their importance, they consist of nothing more than paper bearing printed words and a “wet” signature. In order to open an estate, you will need to have the original will—a photocopy or electronic file will not suffice. It’s essential, then, that the hand-signed document be protected from harm and readily available when the need arises.