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Mean Wills Don’t Ever Mean Well

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letterShakespeare — yes, that Shakespeare, the celebrated playwright and poet – wrote one mean document.  His Will did not refer to his wife by name.  And all he bequeathed her was his “second-best bed.”

That’s what he thought of his wife. Theirs wasn’t a great marriage.

So what kind of message was he sending in this part of his Will?  Right. A mean one.  Did this sentiment need to be part of his permanent, written legacy? Probably not; it tarnishes the image of this otherwise giant of literature.

Fast forward to today and someone else. A real Will contained this provision:

If we’re not divorced by the time I die, make sure she gets nothing.  She has already gone through all my money.”

The sentiment was clear.  But when the man died and his Will was probated, this paragraph went on record at the courthouse. Where everybody – including children – could see it.  Forever.

What’s the point? Well, sometimes people are trying to be funny in their Wills, like these:

To [name of ex-wife], I leave the sum of $0.02, because I always get my last two cents in.”

To my nephew John, who made sure I knew he expected to be named in my will: ‘Hello, John.’”

This one may be apocryphal; it read: “To my wife, I leave the house, 150 acres, and $2 million.  To my son, I leave my Lexus, the new Jaguar and $250,000.  To my daughter, I leave my yacht and $250,000.  And to my brother-in-law, who always insisted that health is better than wealth, I leave my treadmill.”

Sometimes it’s not so funny, but hurtful. Like the man who wrote “To my daughter, I leave $1.00 for the kindness and love she has never shown me.”  Someone wrote in another Will: “Returning good for evil, I leave my son, John, the sum of One ($1.00) Dollar.”

Then there’s the caustic, like the brother who thought his sister had started emptying mom’s bank accounts before Mom died.  His will read “Hell will freeze over before she gets a penny from me.”

It’s hard – next to impossible, really — to reconcile a relationship like this one after the person has died. What if the sister can prove to her sibs that no, she hadn’t been dipping into the mother’s account for anyone but the mother? Or worse, after the writer died, the sister wants to make amends, and restitution.  There’s no way to unring this bell.

And once the will is recorded at the courthouse, it’s open for public view and it’s there forever. Not that anyone might go to look at it (you’re not Michael Jackson or yes, William Shakespeare or anyone who lived in between.)

But the people who are mentioned, who are being will-lashed (my word; like “tongue-lashed”) will know it’s there.  Nobody has to go look at it but they know it’s there as long as there will be public records.

“Hurtful,” and “Vengeful” come to mind in lots of these situations.

Here’s one where the main fact isn’t all that unusual: the children from the first marriage didn’t really get along with the second wife; and vice versa.

The father wanted the children to make certain accommodations to provide for the wife after he passed away. The children agreed – she was a wonderful caregiver – but they wanted some protections in case she remarried.

Somehow, none of this was ever written down. The father, however, did write something down. Just the wrong thing in the wrong place.

In his will, he wrote: “I have left my children nothing, and they know why.”

They found out about this provision when he died. And of course, they didn’t know why and there was no way to find out.

Gone was the relationship with the stepmother. Gone were all good memories of the father. Explanations? Misunderstandings? Make things better? Nope. Scars forever.

And it’s not worth it. Which is why we urge you: some things – including meanness and sarcasm — are best left buried.

Okay, you want something lighter to end this? An Englishman’s Will contained this: “I wish peace and affluence to all my friends and a piece of effluence to all my enemies.”

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