Most people will agree that it is very important for everyone to have a will, and some will go so far as to remind you of the importance of keeping that crucial document up to date.
That is all very well and good, but in my books it is not nearly sufficient. Of course if you still do not have a will, I encourage you to take care of this deficiency ASAP.
By the same token, if you DO have a will, but you have not looked at it or updated it in the last few years, please pull it out and see if it all still makes sense with the reality of your family today.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a penchant for analogies, and for this subject I believe I have come up with one that is very à propos.
While it does not lend itself to a good blog title or soundbite, it is nonetheless very important to understand.
Here goes: A will is like a law. Your will tells your heirs what happens to all your assets and possessions. Similarly, a law is a document that describes what is allowed and what is legal, and what is not allowed and illegal.
But laws are written in general terms, and then the laws get turned into regulations. There are people who work for the various governments and departments, whose job it is to turn the laws into rules and regulations, and it is these rules and regulations, not the laws, that are the key to how the laws impact the day-to-day lives of citizens.
So if a will is like a law, and a law depends on its regulations, what does the will depend on? I’m glad you asked!
The lawyer who prepared the will can help the family understand what the will means legally, insofar as who now owns what. A good lawyer, who took the time to get to know and understand his or her client’s wishes and intentions, may even be able to help the family understand WHY things were laid out a certain way.
But I don’t know too many lawyers who will be able to help the family figure out HOW they are going to get along and manage things in the future, now that the dearly departed has actually departed.
Imagine if there were a way that you could help your family work through the questions of HOW they are going to work together after you are gone. Wait, why are you just imagining it, why aren’t you actually doing it?
Now I am not suggesting that this is the kind of discussion that everyone loves to have, far from it. But it is too important to ignore it.
Best-selling author Tom Deans’ second book, Willing Wisdom, gives some very thought-provoking advice, sugesting that everyone review their will annually, and modify the document as needed after having a collaborative discussion with their entire family.
I love the idea, but I acknowledge that it is probably a little extreme for most people. But talking about sex never got anyone pregnant, so talking about death isn’t going to kill you either.
My main point is this: Having an up-to-date will is the bare minimum. The people who are going to have to deal with your assets, and who are going to have to deal with each other, would benefit enormously from understanding not only WHAT you have written in your will, but also WHY you have made the choices that you did.
And furthermore, if you can get them to also comprehend HOW you would like them to work with each other, they could all take advantage of your wisdom, even after you are gone.
The hardest part is getting the conversation started, but the sooner you do, the easier it gets.