Patty Craig: A Slice of Time
Although we know we’ll die someday, many of us have not written a Last Will and Testament. Approximately 55 percent of American adults do not have a will in place, according to LexisNexis, a legal resource center. This number has been fairly steady during the 2000s, when other estate planning documents, such as medical directives, have become more common.
A Last Will and Testament is one of the most important legal documents a person may create during his or her lifetime. If a person dies without a will, state laws will determine how and to whom the person’s assets will be distributed. Even if that person expressed different wishes verbally during his lifetime, the statutes control the distribution. With a valid will, a person can legally determine how his or her property will be distributed and to whom.
Certain legal requirements must be met in order for a will to be valid. The general requirements include: (a) the document must be written, (b) signed by the person making the will, and (c) signed by two witnesses who were present to witness the execution of the document by the maker and who also witnessed each other sign the document. In Kentucky, any person eighteen years of age and of sound mind may make a will. “Sound mind” generally means someone who has not been deemed incompetent in a previous legal proceeding. A common recommendation is that the witnesses be disinterested, meaning that they are not beneficiaries of the will. Also, the court automatically accepts a self-proven will as authentic. To self-prove a will, the person making the will and the witnesses must swear in an affidavit before a notary to the authenticity of the will, and the affidavit should be part of the will or attached to it. In my opinion, meeting these legal requirements is best done with an attorney.
Some unusual last wishes are documented on the Internet. Two of those included John Bowman (died 1891) and T M Zink (died 1930). First, John Bowman believed that when he died, his entire family would be reincarnated together. His wife and two daughters had preceeded him in death. So, Bowman set up a $50,000 trust to pay for the upkeep of his 21-room home and requested that a daily meal be prepared in case the family returned hungry. The will was honored until 1950 when the trust ran out of funds. Then, T M Zink, an attorney from Iowa, left $50,000 in trust for 75 years, hoping the funds would grow to $3 million. With these funds, he planned to fund a womanless library. He instructed that women not be admitted and that no book, work of art, or decorations by women be allowed in the library. His family was successful in challenging the will.
Several years ago, my late husband and I had our wills written. We did not have significant possessions, but wanted to make life less complicated for our children. We took the traditional path, leaving our possessions to one another first, then equally (I believe in being fair.) to our three daughters or their children. Over the years, I’ve told my children that when my estate is settled, they should have enough money left to go out and have a nice meal (I didn’t want to raise their expectations.). In future, considering our present economy, I think I’ll suggest fast food.