Image of Last Will & Testament via Shutterstock:

Image of Last Will & Testament via Shutterstock:

Dear Reader:

Every now and again I’m going to answer a question that you didn’t ask me. This is one of those weeks.

It’s come to my attention that you don’t have a will.

You’re a smart person. I can tell by the letters that you send me and by the comments that you leave on this site. But not having a will isn’t especially smart.

When a person dies intestate (which, even though it sure sounds like a groin injury, actually means not having a will), the state ends up following a rigid set of rules to determine what happens to her money and her property. Those rules will not necessarily send her assets where she would like them. If, for instance, it’s important to you to make a gift to your worship community, to a charity, or to an obscure relative or friend, dying intestate means that the state is not going to follow your wishes. That’s not to imply that the people who work for the state aren’t good or honest. It is only to say that, unlike the little boy in that Bruce Willis movie, they don’t have a reliable means of asking dead people questions. You need to leave them a record of what you want.

In case that isn’t enough to persuade you, Reader, there’s still more. I heard from a mutual friend that you have children.

OMG, go write a will.

It is imperative that you make it clear how and when you want your children to have access to your estate. Spare your kids the painful burden of having to figure that question out in court or in some other kind of fight. And, if your children are minors, you need to declare who it is that you want to take care of them — and what use of your money that party will have — should all of their current guardians die.

Now, I understand that there may be questions that you haven’t yet worked out. Maybe you’re not entirely sure how you’d like to see your assets distributed. Maybe there is more than one other family whom you could imagine as the guardians of your children. These are hard decisions to make. So, here’s what you do: write a will and then keep on deliberating. When the time comes that you’ve figured things out a little better, you can write a new will. In the mean time, it’s miles better to have an imperfect record of your wishes than to have no record at all.

Before I wrap up, a quick word about magical thinking. I’ve spent my fair share of time avoiding cracks in the sidewalk in the interests of my mother’s spinal health. And I’ve been known to shout pleas and the occasional imprecation at the TV when the Vancouver Canucks are playing. (It hasn’t worked so far, but this is totally the year that they’re going to win the Stanley Cup.) So, I understand if you’re worried that writing a will means that you’re going to die.

You can power through that anxiety by doing two things:

First, have a look at the evidence: notwithstanding major advances in medicine over the last 100 years, the death rate remains pretty consistent at one death per person. In other words, while writing a will does mean that you’re going to die, not writing a will also means that you’re going to die. Given that your intestitude is not ramping up the odds of immortality even slightly, you might as well write a will.

Second, should you be given the diagnosis of a potentially terminal disease, the last thing that you’re going to want to do is write your will. It could well feel like giving up. So write your will now while you’re healthy.

I get that you’re not planning on dying anytime soon — most of us aren’t. And I totally hope that you live to be one of those biblical ages with three digits in it. But, as Ann Landers used to say, none of us has a contract with God. The people in yesterday’s car accident, the man who had an aneurism sneak up on him, the woman whose ladder was less secure than she imagined. Not one of those people was planning on being dead today.

There are plenty of resources in your state or province which are going to allow you to write a will cheaply or even free. Go look for them on Google. And then, Reader, get that will written. We’ll both feel better once you do.

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Categories: Beliefs

Martin Elfert

Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which the Divine was at work in the world. Shortly thereafter, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination.

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