The Importance of Wills
Most of us fear death and turn a blind eye to it until it smacks us in our faces.
We all know that we should plan for it, let our loved ones know our wishes and write a will. But, how many of us really do that? It seems ghoulish and makes us uncomfortable. In Despicable Lies, it is Fred Coulter’s will that forever changes the lives of so many characters in the book. The bequeaths monumentally impacted Darcy and Danielle who had expected nothing material from their father. Fred’s incorrigible wife, Karin, finds her world completely upset by the contents of her husband’s will from which she had expected to inherit his fortune. Wills and their stipulations can serve to make the beneficiaries happy or miserable. In my novel, I call it “pay back.”
At the reading of Fred Coulter’s last will and testament…The family lawyer stated. “As Fred’s will clearly states, the girls get all the money from his estate, and you, Karin, now own all of his real estate holdings.”
And …“At the time of his death,(Fred Coulter) there was enough cash in that account to leave each of you(the twins) many millions and to pay the state expenses and taxes. His real estate holdings, however, are now virtually worthless, as they are encumbered by all that debt. He owes more money on the properties than their current valuations.”
to Karin…“I suppose ,dear lady,” he said mockingly, with a glint in his eyes and a wink at the girls, “you’ll have to get a job.”
I am not advocating using your last will and testament as a tool of revenge, but in the deepest parts of my imagination, I can pretend to leave things to people simply to ignite a reaction in them. (Good or bad). A bequest of five thousand dollars to the homeless man that sleeps on the bench next to the market where you shop every day could positively change his life forever. Paying off a grandchild’s student loans would be a miracle to him or her and financially free them to enjoy their life. Leaving your collection of 10,000 worn, smelly and old paperbacks to your factitious, cranky neighbor could cause him great angst as he has to figure out how to dispose of them. And my favorite fantasy is to leave someone I don’t like, a piece of what they think is expensive art. After paying enormous amounts of money to insure it, year after year, they finally discover the piece is a fake. Sweet revenge!
According to The Guardian “Leaving instructions for what should happen to your finances after your death is a serious matter – but for some the temptation to cause mischief or raise a smile from beyond the grave is too much. Here are some of the strangest wills of all time:
A daily rose…Legendary US comedian Jack Benny left an usual but touching instruction in his will when he died in 1974. “Every day since Jack has gone the florist has delivered one long-stemmed red rose to my home,’ his widow Mary Livingston wrote in a magazine, shortly after his death. “I learned Jack actually included a provision for the flowers in his will. One red rose to be delivered to me every day for the rest of my life.”
A boozy weekend…We all like to think that our friends will raise a glass to us when we’re gone, but Roger Brown made sure of it. The 67-year-old lost his life to prostate cancer in 2013, leaving behind a secret bequest of $3,500 pounds to seven of his closest friends, with the proviso that they use it for a boozy weekend away to a European city.
“we would like to formally apologize to Roger’s two sons, Sam and Jack, for taking away some of their inheritance,” beneficiary Roger Rees told the South Wales Evening Post after the friends spent a weekend in Berlin. “We spent most of it on beer, the rest we wasted.”
And according to Investopedia Harry Houdini the renowned master escapee and daredevil died in 1926 on Halloween. Towards the end of his life, Houdini had become mystified by the idea of an afterlife and spiritual mediums. Houdini promised his wife, Bess, that he would contact her in the afterlife, using a pre-planned ten-digit secret message that only she would know, to silence naysayers when she eventually reported his presence (she never did). His last will and testament also stated that a séance should be held each anniversary of his death.
The tales of 80’s greed wouldn’t be the same without the real estate investor and hotel owner dubbed the “Queen of Mean”. She donated about 35 million to charities, but in the final years of her life, her good deeds were overshadowed by instructions to establish a $12 million dollar trust for her Maltese dogs in her last will and testament. The amount was later reduced to $2 million by a judge. By comparison, her grandsons were left $5 million each, but with the condition that they visit the gravesite of their father each year.
The heiress and daughter of James Buchanan “Buck” Duke, founder of the American Tobacco Company and North Carolina’s Duke University, is said to have never smiled in pictures from childhood to death. Her passing created the Doris Duke Foundation, a charitable organization worth more than a billion dollars. However, her last will and testament also stated that $100 million was to be secured in a pet trust for her dogs. The matter was disputed in court for nearly ten years. In 2004, a judge finally awarded $20,000 to two of her former employees who had been caring for the dogs.
So, as you can see, the terms and conditions of wills can be onerous and ridiculous or beneficial and life changing. Fred Coulter’s will in Despicable Lies, was masterful and produced exactly the resulted he wanted. If you make a will, be sure it does the same.
Until my next inspiration…ciao
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