By Patrick Duffy
Would you ever take a look at our will?
Life is strange and experience shows us that what goes around usually comes around. More than 20 years ago I came to the U.S. My first place of residence was with a couple who were kind to me. For someone trying to settle into a new country, into a different culture and value system, it was difficult.
However, one of the best memories of the period is coming home late at night from work and often finding something to eat left out for me. The couple were the essence of kindness.
Fast forward a good number of years. On a regular basis I would be invited out to the house for dinner. One particular time I got a number of calls within a short period of time. It seems something was on their minds.
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The dinner on the next visit closed with a question, "Would you ever take a look at our wills?"
"Certainly," was the answer, with the preface that I am not a lawyer. I would look at it from a financial planners perspective, I said.
"Fine," they said.
Before looking at it, we spent some time chatting about what they wanted to do with their assets, which were not insignificant. On the death of the first to die, both wanted everything left to the surviving spouse. On the death of the surviving spouse, they wished the remaining assets to be divided among a number of nephews and nieces in both families. Simple enough, you might say.
Knowing what they wanted to do, I looked at the wills. The wills were not in line with their thinking. The first part fulfilled their wishes. The surviving spouse was to receive everything. The second wish was problematic.
In this case, when the surviving spouse died, the remaining assets were to go to the surviving spouse’s family only; the family of the first to die was omitted. It took me some time to get across to them the effect of the wills as written. They were speechless.
Fast forward another year. Another invitation. The same question, "Would you take a look at our wills?" Again the same proviso. "I’m not a lawyer but I will look at it from a financial planner’s perspective to see if it fulfills your wishes."
They had the first wills revoked. The new wills were in complete alignment with their wishes. Everything was spelled out in detail with great clarity.
All of us need wills. Well-written wills, which are in accordance with our wishes, are a blessing. Poorly written wills, wills which are out of date, wills which were written when circumstances were different should all be looked.
Like the man said to me one day, But that’s only if I die." Nothing surer. Money does funny things to people. Assumptions made that everything will be OK are often blown apart. The surety that "our kids are good" can be severely tested when wills are not clear.
The couple have begun consolidating their cash assets to make it easier for the executor. They have also begun to assemble relevant documents and place them all together.
The simple question "Could you ever look at our wills?" helped me repay the couple for their kindness to me so many years ago. What goes around comes around.
Patrick J. Duffy, MS, CFS, is a certified financial planner practicing in New York City. He specializes in business and personal financial planning with the overall aim of enhancing an individual or family’s quality of life. His office is at 767 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10021. You may call him at (212) 755-7736.
If you have a question related to business or personal finance, mail or fax it to The Business Section, Irish Echo, 309 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10016, (212) 686-1756.