I have a will, do you?
I have had a couple of people ask this past week if I “quit the paper.” They were curious when they didn’t see an opinion column from me in the last issue. I didn’t ask whether or not they were glad I seemed to have moved out of the newspaper world. Sometimes it is just better not to know what readers think.
I did not quit the paper. I went to Wisconsin because on Easter Sunday the coroner in Richland Center, Wis. contacted my sister and me with the news that our brother had died on his farm a couple of miles out of town.
I am not using this space to make an announcement of his death. I want to use his death to offer some advice. You all should continue reading to the end.
My brother just never “got around” to writing out a will to make sure his wishes would be carried out. He owned 260 acres of prime rural real estate that included virgin timber, pasture acreage, and picturesque outcroppings of rock formations. When we were there, most of it still looked just as it did hundreds of years before any white man wandered through the territory. He wanted it to remain pristine, to be protected from development, but couldn’t decide on a conservation program to be the recipient of a his land. He studied and pondered his options for too long and he did not make the arrangements necessary to save the ground where he lived and died.
My sister and I hoped to intervene and convince some probate judge that we knew what our brother’s wishes were. We made the trip to find out about our options and we found we really had none. We could not change the fact that he had done nothing to make his intent a reality. We hired a local attorney and said, “How can we fix this?” Essentially, she said, “You cannot. All the statements he made to you or others about his wishes will not hold up against the fact that he left no will.”
And so, my sister and I returned to our homes, having accomplished nothing. We loved our brother and we made a last ditch effort to do what we both knew he wanted most. We can live with the fact that we didn’t succeed.
However, here is my message to you. You need to legally make your desires known in a will and you need to file it properly, according to the rules of the state in which you live. Usually this means visiting an attorney. Doing nothing will get your children, your extended family, and your heirs nowhere. Your state will decide how your property and your cash or investments are divvied up. Your state will decide who raises your minor children. If you have special plans for your estate they will not see fruition if you do not put it in writing.
It is imperative that you address your mortality and do what you need to do to make your wishes known. You cannot get by with telling a few people what you want or scratching out a list of intents or bequests on the back of an envelope and hoping someone sees it in the pile of papers on your desk.
Do the right thing and do not wait. If you have children, if you have real estate, investments, cash, or possessions, and you have an opinion about how you want them shared with your heirs — or not — take care of business and do it now. Waiting will only put your loved ones in the position my sister and I were in this past week and that is not a good place to be.
— Susan Marshall