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Draw up a will to make it easy on your heirs

I may not be the only one who suffers an acute allergy attack at the mere thought of dealing with a lawyer.

And it's depressing enough to think about involvement with lawyers without having to contemplate our ultimate demise at the same time.

But, the fact of the matter is death and dying are both objects of lawyerly affection.

Suffice it for me to say we all must deal with making wills and living wills lest things happen to us (and our stuff) that we can't control.

I speak from experience: Previous husband died will-free, which precipitated a world of bureaucratic hassle and legal entanglements. I don't recommend ending life like that unless you think your loved ones will rejoice in sifting through state legal codes.

There are other things to think about too, things that might not occur to you. For instance: When my daughters' grandmother died, there was only one thing that one daughter wanted as a keepsake: her grandmother's sewing basket.

Her grandmother was a miraculous sewer of clothes, curtains and other nifty stuff. Gramsie, as she was known, was aware of her granddaughter's interest, but she never let anyone else know that the sewing basket was important to someone.

My daughter lives nearly a thousand miles from the place where her grandmother died. The sewing basket disappeared along with other household stuff that was not wanted or needed by relatives who ended up doing the awful post-death clear-out. How I wish Gramsie had stuck a label on the basket directing it to my daughter. If she had only written a letter about any nonvaluable items that she wished to give to someone in particular, that basket would not have been included in the Goodwill contribution.

When my mother died, she had already given away things she knew were dear to someone's heart. But there were things, many things, that she didn't direct to any of us personally. I made a startling discovery two months after her death. I, living nearby, was the designated clearer-outer of her house. My two brothers and I were surprised to discover that a few pieces of her jewelry didn't turn up with all the rest. They weren't particularly valuable pieces, but they were things she knew I loved. She died at my brother's house many, many miles from her home. She was spending the summer in Indianapolis as she had many times before. I think she suspected that she might not return home.

One fine day, while clearing out drawers in her guest room, I came to the drawer where she kept bras, panties and extra prosthetic breasts she had had since two radical mastectomies many years before. There, in the heart of my mother's "bosoms,'' was a little cache of things she wanted me to have.

Her logic was flawless. She knew perfectly well that I would be the only one to delve into that drawer. Even if my two brothers had been on hand, they would have unanimously assigned dealing with her pectoral artifacts to me. My brothers immediately agreed that she had sent a message designating those few things for me. (So far I haven't needed the prostheses, but you never know.)

So here's my recommendation: Do whatever you have to do so that your heirs will face minimal hassle. Make sure you have a living will. When that part is out of the way, think about what your children and grandchildren might cherish. Don't be modest; believe me, someone will treasure "that old thing.'' If you know now some of the things that have special meaning to someone, label them. Write that letter that expresses your awareness of their interests. If you don't know what to give to whom, ask them.

Times are tough. Your heirs may get less of monetary value than you hoped to leave them. Sure, money is nice, and it would be great to leave a big, expensive house to your kids, but the house may not be their best memory of you if they can't live in it and need to sell it.

The remains of your 401(k) may be a little problematic, too, if you plan on croaking anytime soon. If you're not on the verge of shuffling off your mortal coil, don't sell that old Chevy. It may become a one-of-a-kind collector's item depending on what happens to GM in the next few months. Besides, you probably have a grandkid who would love to bomb around in a retro heirloom.

Okay! You've done what's necessary in regards to your big stuff: bank accounts, real property, etc. Now sit back and imagine your progeny and friends. What do you have that they might take good care of after you're gone?

Surely there's a relative living in Minnesota who would proudly display your pink plastic flamingo next to the annual snowman. Leave 'em laughing, or, at least, smiling.

Sheila Stoll can be reached in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Draw up a will to make it easy on your heirs 12/22/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 2:15pm]
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