Help & advice

Where there’s a will… there’s a party?

According to a recent survey only four in 10 adults over 55 have made a will. At the moment, I am one of them. 

What has put me off?  Well one thing is the enormous cost.  I don’t understand why solicitors charge hundreds of pounds when you can do it yourself using a helpful app.

Having done the probate on both my mother’s and father’s wills I know that making a will can cause as much anger and hurt as not leaving a will.  In fact, the newspapers have been full recently of families battling it out over bequests and leaving only the lawyers better off.

But the real reason is that I don’t know what to do with the things I consider precious. Things that I have acquired over the years which may have little monetary value but that mean a great deal to me. I don’t have children or close relatives other than my wonderful husband, but I do have a few close friends and I would like to leave them something in my will. Something that will bring them pleasure and remind them of our friendship.

Over the years I have been left bequests from relatives and friends which I treasure … but that I also loathe. There’s the incredibly ugly vase left to me by a relative which I keep hidden in a cupboard. I cannot bring myself to get rid of it because it feels like a betrayal of our relationship. And so, with some of the other, ugly (in my eyes) bequests, they remain hidden away.

There was some modestly valuable jewellery belonging to an aunt which was unwearable.  But thanks to my dearest friend I was introduced to a solution for that bequest.  I took all my aunt’s jewellery to a fantastic jeweller who used her solitaire diamond and gold bracelets and necklaces to create a fabulous ring which I wear every day and some gorgeous earrings that I wear on special occasions.  Unlike my aunt’s original pieces, which I would never have worn, my re-created pieces give me enormous pleasure and still remind me of her.

The problem is that there is no knowing which of my vases and other precious possessions will give pleasure to my friends and which ones will be tucked away guiltily in a cupboard.    I think I’ve found the answer and this year I will actually see through my New Year’s resolution to make a will. I have an idea.   I’m going to hold a party – or maybe several parties. I will give each of the guests two or three individual stickers – a bit like the ones you get at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition – and invite my friends to place a sticker on an item they would be delighted to get as a bequest in my will. That way I know that when I die my most precious possessions will go to people who will treasure them as much as I did.

I have mentioned this idea to a few of my friends who have very different responses.  Some think it is ghoulish, some think it is a fantastic idea. Some think there could be a battle over particular items and then I would have to choose who it went to and end up hurting the others.

So, maybe one big party isn’t the solution but instead a lot of little ones (which will give me an excuse to celebrate with those who I love) will give me the solution to my dilemma. Then I can finish writing my will, knowing that none of my possessions will end up in landfill, or stuck in the deepest recesses of a cupboard.

But the most precious thing I own won’t be available to be claimed.  It has absolutely no financial value but is priceless beyond compare to me. It is a fragile leather wallet with 14 letters written by my great-grandfather, Walter Mitchell.  The letters written to his mother, his brother and his sweetheart, Emilie, are about his adventures as a 23-year-old carpenter seeking his fortune in America in the 1860s.  They reveal he is brave and loyal. He writes of how much he admires the Americans and their attitudes to class, so different from the hierarchy in England. He writes to Emilie about the ladies’ fashion in hats and of the searingly hot weather in the summer and the freezing temperatures of the winters.

I am hoping to find a safe home for them in a genealogy library with digital copies for anyone who would like to read of his adventures travelling from New York to St Joseph in Missouri and back to England, there to marry his sweetheart. Thanks to his letters I know more about him and his life than I know about his son, my grandfather and those extraordinary letters were one of the inspirations for my creating an online system that makes it easy for anyone to create a beautiful hardback book of their life story for their family – autodotbiography.

Maybe I will include my will making experiment in one of the chapters of my own autodotbiography. 

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