Have you heard the story about the man who died without a will? It’s true, and it takes many forms. Quite a few of them go something like this:
All things considered, John had a pretty good life.
He was happily married to his second wife, Mary, and they were expecting a child. They were also raising Mary’s young daughter from a previous marriage.
John and his brother, Phil, were partners in a very successful contracting business that John had launched in his youth. They’d recently expanded and added staff—including John’s adult son from a previous marriage.
John and Mary owned a house in the suburbs and a vacation home at the beach. Every Sunday they hosted a big dinner for the extended family. In the summer, they’d host family weekends at the shore.
John donated faithfully to his favorite charity, and often talked about making a planned gift.
John also talked about making a will, but he wasn’t in any rush. After all, he was just 38, and in the best shape of his life. He knew he had plenty of time left.
Until one day, he didn’t.
John was walking the family dog when a texting driver took her eyes off the road. Her car careened onto the sidewalk, killing him instantly.
John’s death plunged the family into despair. But it’s what came after that turned his story into a much bigger tragedy.
You see, because John died intestate—without a will—his loved ones were left with a massive legal and financial mess. And as the probate process dragged on, things went from bad to worse.
John’s adult son sued Mary, claiming he was owed a larger portion of Dad’s assets. He also wanted ownership of the shore house, which had been in his father’s family for three generations, and a stake in the family business.
Mary, meanwhile, felt that her daughter and the coming baby deserved the lion’s share of John’s assets. She wanted to sell the shore house and place the money in a trust for her children. She filed a countersuit.
Phil also sued Mary. He and John had never gotten around to having a lawyer formalize their partnership. Now, according to their state’s intestacy laws, the business and its assets would pass to Mary.
Mary wanted to sell the business, hoping for a big profit. Phil wanted to take it over, and felt like Mary should accept what he considered a fair offer.
The mess John left behind grew exponentially. The probate battle dragged on for years. Huge legal bills mounted, draining the estate. The once-close family was turned into a bickering powder keg of ill will. And John’s favorite charity never saw another dime in his name.
John could have been remembered as a responsible husband and business owner who took care of his loved ones and made a transformational gift to charity. [Read: Only the Rich and Famous Have a Will]
But instead, people talk about the mess he left behind. They say his lack of preparation tore the family apart, destroyed a thriving business, and upended lives.
All because John didn’t take the very simple step of creating a will to protect his loved ones.
Don’t be like John, or the thousands of other Americans who don’t have a will. Meet with an estate planning attorney, or use our LegacyPlanner™ for free to create a simple, legal will that’s valid in all 50 states.
Did you know over 68 percent of Americans don’t have a will? Take the opportunity to educate your friends about the importance of creating an estate plan that will protect their families and secure their own legacy. If you’re a nonprofit, you’ll create a larger impact by subscribing to LegacyPlanner™, our online will planning service that makes it easy for your supporters to plan their will for free and to remember you with a bequest. [If it is not in your budget, get the free version here.] This will further open up conversations on the importance of planned giving.