Thursday, December 8, 2022
December 8, 2022

Nobody Asked Me But: Won’ts and don’ts could be as important as wills

Sooner or later, you will be in the position I found myself in a few weeks ago. You will realize that you have reached a stage in your life when it is time to consider what will happen to your stuff when you are no longer here. Even if previously you had the foresight to draw up a legal last will and testament, you may discover that times and situations have changed enough to make many of the declarations in your will outdated or even obsolete.

For instance, I found that many of the articles which had been so important to me at a younger age were no longer of any value or in much demand. My giant glass jar filled with copper pennies and my prized collection of bottle caps from all around the world, for example, had lost all meaning in a world obsessed with bitcoins and non-fungible tokens. Similarly, I was living so far back in time that my substantial contribution from my estate to The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Dinosaurs was probably well past its “best before” date.

Just in case you didn’t know, a last will and testament is a document which explains and clarifies what will happen to your estate and property at the time of your death. Actually, “explains and clarifies” is a total misrepresentation because nobody, not even the lawyers who draw these things up, have a clue about what is actually stated in the will. This is because the language used in these documents is a legalese jargon that was imported from the planet Grrxxxl about 500 gazillion years ago before it was destroyed by a giant affidavit hurdling through space.

Just to get a taste of the language used in wills, why don’t we chew on this witty little paragraph: “A disposition to a person’s Issue alive at a particular time ‘per stirpes’ means the trustee must divide the estate or relevant part of it into a sufficient number of shares.” Sounds like a party about to break out, doesn’t it? It’s easy to see how the inhabitants of Grrxxxl were probably relieved by their imminent destruction.

Don’t get me wrong. I readily admit that leaving a will behind when it’s time to check out from this planet is a useful and probably necessary exercise. After all, you wouldn’t want those you leave behind to quibble and squabble over who gets to take home that heirloom chafing dish, would you? But is anyone going to really decipher that “the residue of the estate of the third party hereby relinquishes all gifts, inheritance, succession, and other death taxes” means that one of your deemed inheritors might refuse to wade through your unorganized tool shed to find out if you left anything of any real value in those tobacco cans filled with rusty nuts and bolts? Hey, if I had wanted to understand the language used in wills, I would have studied Egyptian hieroglyphics in college.

Many wills specify who will be designated to carry out the wishes of the deceased. This responsibility falls to the Trustee or the Executor. It’s important to differentiate between the two positions. Basically, your Trustee is someone you trust. It follows, therefore, that your Executor is someone you don’t trust. The name, Executor, comes from the same root as Executioner, who is sometimes affectionately referred to as the hangman or the fellow who pulls the lever on the guillotine.

Naming somebody to be your Executor is about the worst thing you can do to a friend or family member. You might as well ask your Executor to take a bullet for you or sip your portion from the poisoned chalice. Administering your estate will so complicate their lives that they will wish they had croaked first and will probably hate you long after you’ve departed from this earthly orb.

I think that there is a better idea than leaving behind a will that will probably satisfy none of your beneficiaries and create bad feelings among the ones you leave behind, which they are certain to take to the grave. I propose a legal document called a “Won’t” which would specify in very plain language who you don’t want to leave what to. The Won’t will prevent your good-for-nothing nephew from walking away with that old dependable chainsaw you knew he always craved.

Your Won’t should be divided into a series of sections called Don’ts. You can start off with a universal Don’t , which names all the friends, relatives and acquaintances to whom you leave absolutely nothing. This can be followed by a number of more specific Don’ts to make sure that certain people don’t inherit certain items. Each Don’t should identify a designated part of your estate and a particular eligible beneficiary you would like to see shut out.

For instance, you want to single out any and all ex-spouses and make sure that none of them get their sticky hands anywhere near your collection of vinyl records which would probably be worth an oil sheik’s fortune if only the labels hadn’t faded so badly that they can no longer be identified and the covers have been pressed against each other for so long that they are impossible to separate.

Not all Don’ts need to be material objects. You may have a neighbour who has been pestering you for ages to allow him to take down that hedge of tall, spindly cedars you planted decades ago on your side of the property line. Even after you are gone, your Won’t can deny your beneficiaries from giving him permission to cut your hedge just so he can have a better glimpse of the ocean. Who says you can’t derive satisfaction from the grave?

Nobody asked me but, whether you leave behind a Will or a Won’t, you are much better off than if you don’t. If you neglect to get your affairs in order, the authorities are bound to step in and probate your estate for you. When all is said and done, you may find that your life will be mismanaged after death much like it was while you were still alive.

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