Today I had a meeting with my lawyer to do some estate planning. My family has been dealing with some of the ambiguities of my father’s estate, and I realized that there were ways to add complexity to the estate planning in order to simplify things for the heirs. The process is fascinating, and in some ways similar to designing software. (Everything has to be spelled out in detail; the default conditions are usually wrong; some user will screw up and blame you for not being clear, etc.)
In the process, I learned some important things that I wanted to pass on, no pun intended. (Disclaimer: I didn’t actually go out of my way to avoid a pun. It just sort of happened. I have no regrets.)
- If you have stuff in your life (friends, family, money, classic comic books in plastic bags that you never read*), you should have a will.
- In North Carolina, if you kill someone to inherit their estate, you are automatically disinherited. (Note: I am sending a copy of this statute to everybody in my family.)
- Apparently, in the case of foul play, you can not set up a trust to pay for someone to find your killer and avenge you. This seems unreasonable in light of point #2 above.
- You cannot leave your entire fortune to your cat if you do not have a cat.
- You cannot instruct the executor to buy you a cat for the purposes of inheritance, because then the estate owns the cat, and you can’t leave the estate to itself.**
- The same provision might also be true for dogs, but I didn’t ask, because I don’t like dogs.
- You cannot add a section indicating what should be done with your estate if you have faked your own death. This seems like an oversight in the law, considering how often people on TV fake their own deaths.
- The law does not require that the attorney assemble all the heirs in a musty drawing room for the reading of the will. (Disclaimer: I have mixed emotions about this, as I do not have a drawing room, and I’m not sure where to rent one.) This means that if you plan to make a video recording of your will, you will have to post it to YouTube.
- If you have a living will, make sure it is specific about the conditions for withdrawing life support. Do not, for example, allow your loved ones to pull the plug if you fall asleep in front of the TV. It won’t make you die faster, and it may take a few minutes for the TV to reset when you plug it back in.
- Many attorneys are reluctant to include scavenger hunts with cryptic clues as part of the will. My lawyer indicated that she did not want to become a case study in some law textbook where the client wrote a crazy will and the lawyer screwed something up. (Disclaimer: This was her reasoning, not mine.) I was hoping that my legacy would include an entry in the syllabus for Estate Planning Bloopers and Practical Jokes 101, but she was adamant.
* If you have a bunch of comic books in plastic bags that you’ve never read, you may be interested to know that many comic books contain colorful pictures and words which tell a story. These stories are in many ways reminiscent of the stories you find in Wikipedia entries for the same comic book issues. Also, if you’re a grammar Nazi, I invite you to spend time reading the plastic bags. There is valuable information about whether or not they are suffocation hazards for children.
** Doing so would rip a hole in the time-space continuum, which might not matter to you if you’re dead, but the rest of us are trying to live here, thank you very much.