My littlest one is snuggled across my lap, snoring, as I type this and the big boy is trying to build the biggest tower in the universe. It breaks my heart, because here I am writing about how an incomplete will destroyed my family for many years. It was the final straw in a monumentally crappy situation. All the while, I’m edging closer to the age my dad died.
Gah, I hate thinking about it, but I haven’t written a will. So, I’ve decided to reframe it in my mind and think of it as a part of a legacy and I want to try and leave a beautiful legacy.
Really, a beautiful legacy is about living a good life, one that I’m proud of and probably the ultimate goal of my Building a Beautiful Life adventure. No pressure – ha!
Luckily, I’ve found some wonderful inspiration.
Words speak louder when someone has died
Mitchell Whisenhunt left more than 30 letters to friends and family, “Many of the notes were reserved to be opened at a later date on special occasions and milestones in his loved ones’ lives, including cards for his each of his daughter’s birthdays until her 18th.” The rest of the article is here (I well up every time I read it).
A gesture speaks 1000 words
Small gestures are powerful. My grandfather’s will was full of problems, but one of the lovely things was how he left thoughtful gifts for people who had been important to him. Many weren’t ‘perfect’ and some, were downright hilarious, but people still valued the intention.
The most hilarious of all was my stepmother being bequeathed the banging antelopes sculpture. The one she had once overly complimented to compensate for the fact my grandfather caught her staring at it.
She had no love for the object, but she was genuinely touched that he had remembered the discussion they’d had about it and we all had a bit of a chuckle and then my dog chewed the sculpture and now I’m not sure what’s happened to it, but you get my drift – it really is the thought that counts.
Thoughts and objects intermingle around death. ‘It’s a cliche to say “you can’t take it with you,” but that becomes meaningful in writing the will,’ said Marele Day, the author of Lambs of God, when I asked about her experience of writing a will. “How liberating to step away from it all. On the other hand, that material wealth is important to those left behind, who will also come to a point of passing it on and letting it go.”
Perhaps, the objects act as totems for those left behind to hold as long as they need to and we need to remember how valuable that process can be.
A life well lived
I won’t dwell on this, because the topic is too big, but the best legacy is a life well lived.
I love Brooke McAlary’s post on writing the first couple of lines of your ideal obituary. Yes, it sounds morbid, but it’s actually a really powerful exercise on defining how you would like to live and it doesn’t even take that long. The tricky part is actually living that life, but the exercise is a mighty fine place to start.
Considering, I’d like mine to mention laughing, I better go and get a joke book and one day I may be able to tell a joke without ruining the punch line.
Holding the children
Megan Daley, of Children’s Book Daily, lost her brother three years ago to suicide and he didn’t have a will. Fortunately, the family is very close and able to trust one another to carry out his wishes. However, it has created an extra challenge at an already devastating time.
‘Sometimes I wish there was a will (even a note) so that his wishes for his gorgeous children and their future could be heard, and written down for them to see in the future,’ Megan said. ‘It would be reassurance for them that we are carrying out what he would have wanted.’
I also love Megan’s grandmother’s approach of writing a will that is, ’Fair to all, because it is your last legacy and what you will be remembered for.’
The last post
So many of us lead big lives online, we meet friends and find communities that we love and spend a lot of time with, which leaves me wondering if there is a way of saying ‘thank you’ in our digital afterlife.
‘We are putting a favourite photo and our passwords in the family’s safety deposit box,’ said Christina Butcher, Mr & Mrs Romance. ‘That way the family can help us, should the worst happen.’
The will, the maker or breaker
The members of my family aren’t bad people, particularly money hungry, or even selfish. The reason I know this is because when my grandmother died she left a simple and fair will, the family executed it and it was done.
The same family was left with my grandfather’s complicated and incomplete will bickered for 20 years. My father died in the process and his will had to wait for Pop’s will to finish. Now, the wills have finished it’s like a completely different family. Everyone is happy getting on with their lives.
I don’t want my children – this delicious snuffling lump on my lap and the master tower builder – to waste years of their lives trying to untangle the meaning of my words.
And this is why I will read the, ahem, boring articles on will writing. Just search ‘how to write a will’ and you’ll see what I mean. Boring, but necessary. This is the Australian Government’s page on how to write a will and they also talk about inexpensive option of DIY kits (so, I don’t really have much excuse.) However, if the will is complicated, the advice is to hire a law firm.
My little snuffle-o-sarus is waking up and I have an overwhelming need to give him a cuddle, but I’d love to hear your experience of dealing with wills and legacies. Do you have any suggestions for leaving a beautiful legacy?