No Last Will? You’re in Good Company

So, you don’t have a last Will. You know, the document that is to be opened on your death setting out who is to manage your affairs now that you are gone (your Trustee), and giving details out concerning who is to get what (beneficiaries and bequests).

Well that makes you normal. Meaning that a number of surveys in Canada and the US indicate that over half of all adults do not have a last Will.

More surprising is that a number of wealthy celebrities have died without having a last Will in place. Aretha Franklin the famous American R&B and gospel songstress who recently passed away is the latest celebrity to die without a plan for her estate. She joins others who were in the same boat including world renowned artist Picasso, bzillionaire Howard Hughes, and rock star Prince.

When pollsters asked folks why they had not made a Will, the typical answers were not that unexpected. A large number said it was on their To Do list, they just hadn’t gotten around to it. Some might call this plain old procrastination. Others indicated it simply wasn’t urgent. And as long as they are alive and healthy they may just have a point.

Then there were some who get down in the dumps when it comes to turning their minds to mortality or death. Others figured that the cost of hiring a lawyer to write up a will was not something they had a budget for. Even a simple Will through a law office can be $300 or more, which for many is a pinch they don’t want to experience.

And then there were some who didn’t know where to start the process. Maybe they didn’t know a lawyer who was experienced in preparing last Wills. They also might not know what they needed to decide in advance of seeing a lawyer.

All of these explanations (we won’t call them excuses) sound perfectly sensible. And let’s not forget the fact that a Will only kicks in after you are dead. You won’t be around to see the consequences. It will become someone else’s problem.

Now if that thought, that you might be leaving a big mess for one or more of your loved ones who survive you, is troublesome, here are a few quick tips to help you get the task off your To Do list.

  • Connect with a lawyer who has some experience preparing Wills. Ask family and friends for a recommendation since almost surely one will know a lawyer who can do the job. Then make a phone call and ask for an appointment to make a will at a time that is convenient to you.
  • Set aside a few hundred dollars (over time if necessary) to pay for the service
  • Decide on a close family member or friend who will look after the paperwork after you are gone. Naming a single Trustee is best. Often the Will can provide for a back-up Trustee if the first can’t or won’t do the job. Let those persons know you plan to name them as your Trustee.
  • Decide on who will get what. For traditional families this is usually the easy part. If you are survived by a partner or spouse, they will likely get everything. If no spouse then usually the children get everything in equal shares. And while you are at it, do consider making a gift to some charity that you believe in.

Of course there will be other issues to consider. But this is where the assistance of the lawyer comes in, to guide you through these other decisions.

At some fundamental level, for all the time, energy and expense that goes into making a will, there is a direct benefit for you, while you are alive. You will just feel better. Better because you are at peace knowing that there won’t be a mess on your death for those who survive you. And the fees that you pay your lawyer to help with this important chore?  Take comfort in knowing that it will be a lot less than the lawyers will make if you don’t have a last will in place when you pass away.


Michael Hennessy