Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

please please please

Some years ago I received a call from a former publicity client. He was tennis friends with a woman who'd found herself the executor of a literary agent's estate, and she didn't know what a literary agent was. My client knew I'd gone over to the dark side; could I help?

Of course.

I ventured upstate to the now-gone agent's  home/office. Sufficient unto this blog post to tell you that I ended up going through her check register to find the names of her clients, then cross referencing it with her 3x5 file box of cards for phone numbers.  (This was before email was as common as it is now, but still, email is not how you made the calls I now had to make.)

I called her clients with the news. Most of them wept. They loved her. Many of them had worked with her for decades. Some were grand-clients: the grandchildren of clients long since departed to the great library in the sky.

Every phone conversation started that way. And they all ended with "and what do I do  now?" Because there had been no planning for "what happens next" I was unable to help them very much.

I'm reminded of this now because it's become public that Prince, gone too soon, has died without a will.  What will happen to his income is less important to me (and to him!) than what will happen to his music. Who decides on license renewals? Who decides on going into the vaults and bringing out the unfinished work? Who decides on who will finish the work, if that's an option?

The person who makes those kinds of decisions for writers is called a literary executor, and yes, you need one.  Even if you're not published.

Please please please make this a higher priority than you think it is.

One of my clients heeded the lash last year and was in my office with the lawyer to sign all the paperwork that goes along with organizing your affairs.

I must tell you: his lovely significant other and I both had tears in our eyes when we were reading those papers. It was Not Fun to contemplate why we'd need them.

But as my client said then, it gave him peace of mind to know that someone who loved and respected his work would be his executor (it was NOT me, since I have a financial interest in my client's works) not simply his next of kin as defined by the state of New York.

Please please please get your literary affairs in order. Here's what I mean by in order:
1. You have a will that specifically designates a literary executor by name. It should also designate an alternate. (You need to ask someone to perform the function; you can't surprise them!)

2. You have written copies of your work, clearly labelled, in a file folder, and your literary executor knows where it is.

3. You have your final draft of every published book or story in a file folder. This is particularly important for those of you who write and publish short stories. Some short stories might have been edited for publication in a way you don't like. Unless you want THAT version in anthologies forevermore, you need YOUR version in your estate.

4. Your literary executor knows who your agent is.

I never want to need this information, but the week Prince died was a sad reminder that I am still not the Queen of the Known Universe.


french sojourn said...

I love the "Little Prince" illustration. Wonderful post, I was wondering about one of my m/s that is hibernating in a trunk right now. I still love the story but it needs a little more vintage before I pop the cork on it.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

All I know is after I am dead, if my kids make a fortune on my finished novels, essays, columns, memoir and assorted writing, which I deem brilliant but unrecognized, I will come back and haunt the asses of every agent who said, no reply means no and every desk-jockey who sent me a form rejection.

Just Jan said...

Thank you for this nudge. Many people need a friendly reminder now and then on this topic. But it also begs the question: What did the agent's clients do? Did they start at square one, agent-wise? Or do agents plan for this possibility, too?

Sam Hawke said...

Love that picture. Makes me think it must be time soon to read my eldest the Little Prince.

What a grim but important reminder, too. I had literally never thought of this, to be honest. Not that I am published, but hopefully I will be before I'm dead... :)

nightsmusic said...

2nn's, that's hilarious!

I don't understand why people don't make out a will. I will never understand that. My NYC uncle died without one and the estate was tied up for years with his daughter fighting my aunt (stepdaughter to my aunt) for everything. When my aunt thought it was all finally settled, the stepdaughter found a loophole to screw my aunt out of most everything anyway. So what does my aunt do 15 years later? Dies without a will and this time it was my dad and I in court with a cousin who, for whatever reason, thought my aunt wanted her to have everything. Money. It all came down to money.

Make a will. Does it force you to look your own mortality in the eyes? Absolutely! But it's so much better than what will happen to those left behind.

Unless of course, you hate your family in which case, die without one and let them kill themselves fighting over everything. Sometimes...revenge.

Kitty said...

I wonder if Truman Capote had a literary executor? I read that he had signed a contract in 1966 for Answered Prayers. The deadline was renegotiated a few times, and then he died in 1984 without ever delivering the finished, or unfinished, manuscript. To this day, the guessing game continues: Was there a finished manuscript or not?

2nn's, that hilarious!

Beth said...

Aww, the Little Prince!

I am sad to say that I hadn't thought of this. I'm currently in a copyright class, and Prince has been a regular topic recently, and my husband and I have been talking about our wills. I feel like, at some point, I should have connected these points, but I didn't. Thanks for opening my eyes, Janet.

nightsmusic said...

I am stunned and in tears. Jo Beverley died yesterday. A wonderful, kind person and an icon in the Romance genre. Your topic today is beyond timely.

Word Wenches - Jo Beverley

Lucie Witt said...

**puts on day job hat**

When naming a literary executor it's critical you dint just name one person - you should name one and two successors if for some reason your first can't serve. This happens frequently.

If your estate is large enough to justify the expense consider a corporate executor or trustee. They are legally held to a higher standard. This is super important. The law basically expects individuals to fuck up a little as fiduciaries. And to call back to a topic of the last few weeks, taxes will potentially be involved depending on your state and the beneficiaries of your estate.

Nightsmusic, how sad. What a loss.

Joyce Tremel said...

My husband and I keep talking about updating our twenty-five year old wills now that our kids are grown. I need to move it further up on the priority list. I have no idea who would be a good literary executor, though!

Lucie Witt said...

Btw if anyone is working on this kinda thing and wants some basic 101 kinda resources, shoot me an email.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Aside from my books and my writing, my estate is a pile of sticks. What a sobering post. I keep telling myself I am going to do this. I will do it.

Is asking agent what happens should he or she pass away on the list of questions we are supposed to ask when considering an offer? I think it is but how awkward. Praying for our continued good health here at the Reef.

And music will miss Prince. How tragic is his passing.

Colin Smith said...

It's sadly ironic that Prince died without a will, given how tightly he regulated public access to his music. Have you tried hunting down Prince videos on YouTube, or any other social media? And because of this apparent oversight, his efforts might all come to naught. I guess we'll see.

Neil Gaiman wrote about this a while ago, and even offered a template for a simple one page will:

Lennon Faris said...

Once we had kid #1 and the next on their way, my husband and I wrote a will. I remember mentioning my 'story' going to my sister. I was met with incredulity for bringing that up, even on the part of my poor husband (who is generally very supportive of my writing but till then probably thought of it as only a hobby).

I *think* I made the lawyer put it in there, although I had no idea of the correct term as it was several years ago and I had not discovered the reef yet. I'll have to go check.

And yes, it was very emotional discussing what would happen to your things, particularly your things that are not 'things' at all, but it is something no one should put off. If Murphy's Law runs strong with you, a well-written will could actually, you know, push things off a little. Ha ha.

DLM said...

It's long been my plan for a particular friend of mine to inherit my work. I've also planned who will inherit any tech I have, though not the manuscripts saved thereon. As for the rest, my nieces are pretty much the whole ballgame in my family. My concern is that they live across the country, and may not be best suited to execute from 3000 miles away - so who's going to be stuck mucking about in my stuff? Gossamer the Editor Cat has flatly refused the job (I think he's PO'd about that friend of mine getting the writing).

Facing death alone is a tricky business, but at least there's nobody to get teary about it.

Karen McCoy said...

Very timely post! My uncle deals with estates, and admonished me very much about being involved with my father's will (my father is 80) because he's seen a lot of the horrors people have described above (and yes, most things come down to money). He also advised me to make a will too. Now I can add a possible literary trustee to the list.

AJ Blythe said...

Colin: *fist bump* I was just hunting for that linky when I saw you've already posted it.

For those out of the US (like me) be aware you need to check the laws of your country, but the link Colin provided gives you a great starting point.

Kitty said...

I can't help it, but when I saw how Janet titled this post, I thought of James Brown performing "Please Please Please" to a live audience.

SiSi said...

This is a sobering but important topic--thanks for the nudge, Janet. I've talked to parents about this (and they do have a will), but I haven't gotten around to making my own.

I have no idea who I would make my literary executor. That'll take some thought. What should we look for in a good literary executor?

Donnaeve said...

This a sobering reality. Ever since it was brought up a few weeks (months?) back out here on The Reef, I've been monkeying around with the thought mI ought to get a safe deposit box for contracts, and maybe I should also include a little storage device with the manuscripts.

And YES to the will and a literary executor. It would make me feel a LOT better if I'd get these things done. We're given examples every day when unexpected death occurs, and we go about as if it could never happen to us. Hello, unexpected.

OT, but it was the topic yesterday which I didn't get to comment on. I just read the post, and I have to admit...this sentence by QOTKU herself struck me in a silly/odd way.

"Perhaps you need to create Son of Collective to publish the loinfruit of those first books." Fruit of the loom is all I could think of after I read this. Yeah. Underwear.

Donnaeve said...

Channeling Sisi.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: So our novels are underwear? Does that make 50 SHADES OF GRAY dirty underwear? ;)

Yep--from death to dirty underwear in less than 25 comments. That's life on the Reef, folks. :)

Steve Stubbs said...

You wrote: “I never want to need this information, but the week Prince died was a sad reminder that I am still not the Queen of the Known Universe.”

You are “the Queen of the Known Universe” to me.

Forget about Prince. Long Live the Queen.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

What Steve said- Janet is forever my queen. Whoever becomes my agent will have to deal with this. I will have it written into my contract as well as my will, and with every book deal, Janet gets a bottle of Scotch and possibly use of my 1st born. It's only right.

Julie Weathers said...

Well, since my father passed away over two years ago now and the trust stipulated it was to be dispersed positively no later than 18 months after death, trust me, make sure you have an executor who will carry out your wishes. This is a simple matter, everything except two vehicles was already in the trust, so there's no excuse for the delay.

A friend's father-in-law told his wife do NOT let the family farm go when he died. It had been in the family since colonial times. Cousins descended with lawsuits after the farm was left to the daughter. The mother finally convinced her to sign a power of attorney so she could negotiate with them and save the farm. She sold the very valuable Virginia farm and split with the cousins.

Spell every. single. danged. thing. out. Then you make sure everyone knows what you want. Make them promise they understand.

In my case, I've told Will the Younger, "Someday, son, all this will be yours."

"Stop threatening me, Mom."

He makes me rotate my threats.

Colin Smith said...

In yesterday's comments, I mentioned how I don't understand phrases like "book purge" and "get rid of books." I like collecting books, but this is not out of greed, or some irrational fetish. My intention is to build a library that I can bequeath to my children. Now, they may decide to sell it all off, or split the books between them, but it will be theirs to enjoy as they please. I hope they make good use of it, but by that time I won't care. :)

Except my Gary Corby books. Those might have to go with me... ;)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

So, Colin, you've been terribly subtle but I think, perhaps, you might be recommending Gary Colby's The Singer From Memphis? Perhaps, I am reading too much into your comments? :)

I too am building a library to leave my daughter. She loves books as much as I do. At least, it seems she does.

Laura Mary said...

I suppose who you choose would depend largely on what your wishes were.
If your wishes were that the stack of unfinished drafts never see the light of day, then a trustworthy soul would do.
If you want to give permission for your finished works to be made available, or even for unfinished works to be finished then that would be a whole different kettle of fish.

Would your literary executor work with your agent on your behalf? Or would your relationship with the agent end along with you? Presumably there would be something in your contract about 'in the event of your death' and where rights revert to etc. That's certainly not a topic I'd want to bring up on Happy Offer Day though :-(
A very sobering thought, but a reminder that I could do with sorting a regular will out myself.

And yes - sending out happy healthy vibes to all here!

DeadSpiderEye said...

Ah the legacy, being one those with the occasional urge to ease the progress of the unwanted towards entropy, that could be a problem. Purging a hard drive is not nearly as satiating as the midnight bonfire in the garden though.

Julie Weathers said...


Just don't pull a Dante Rosesetti and have anything buried with you someone may want later. He buried all his unpublished poems with his wife in his extreme grief. Later, realizing he could not write and needed to be stimulated and the poetry was valuable, he had her dug up and retrieved the volume. It had to be cleaned and ciphered to determine missing letters worms had eaten. So, now we know there really are bookworms!

This useless bit of trivia brought to you by Julie's fevered brain.

Colin Smith said...

E.M.: My review of THE SINGER FROM MEMPHIS by Gary Corby (sbnytba) will be on my blog tomorrow (i.e., Wednesday, 3am ET, for our southern hemisphere friends). You can anticipate that it might be somewhat favorable. ;)

sbnytba: Should Be NYT Bestselling Author

Dena Pawling said...

My husband's parents were divorced. When his father died, a relative made things difficult. The remaining family members decided not to engage in in-fighting which would likely create division among them, and to just let that relative “win”. When his mother died, same situation, different relative. The remaining family members decided to let it be. Not a lot of monetary value was at stake in either of these situations, altho it wasn't insignificant either. Definitely insufficient to create long-lasting divisions among people who considered themselves “family”.

His older sister's cancer has returned. She has learned from the previous problems. She is not married, has no children, has no real estate. She has a car and several items with sentimental value, and some money in savings. Not a lot, but not insignificant either. She wrote a will with specific instructions for every last thing she owns, plus a residuary clause for everything she forgot to list.

One of the most difficult decisions for me, was deciding [and talking to those persons about it] who will be responsible for my #2 son, who will always need someone to take care of him.

Make that will. It's important.

Peggy Larkin said...

My husband and I finally had a will done up about a year and a half ago (because the baby is just over a year old, natch) but since I have yet to finish anything (because of the baby for the last year or so; no good excuses for the time before that, I'm afraid) we didn't put any thought at all into literary executorship ("literary execution" sounds like a different thing). We also didn't manage to get anywhere with making his small business into a real LLC (video-game-themed cutting boards and kitchen accessories, wood-and-metal jewelry, and custom furnishings). Guess we'll have to add all that to our to-redo list!

Our lawyer's office was the sort of place that feels too fancy for ordinary human beings--25th floor, view of the city and the tops of clouds, etc--and our lawyer tried very hard not to tell us how adorable our teeny little nest egg was (you know: only one house, only a few thousand in investments--we're doing very well, but not lawyer-on-the-25th-floor level!).

I'll be interested to see how she responds to "one-man small business" and "unpublished mess that may someday be a novel"... once we save up enough for the revision fees!

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Julie ~ there are certainly bookworms. At the library, we preserved a (dead) one that we once found!

We always think we have more time. That's why I don't (yet) have a will. Indeed, I was in the position recently, or I guess more correctly recently entered the position, where I have no will and these decisions would have had to be made. Have I gotten on top of it since? Well, no, because it's hard to bring yourself to do it, really. Or bring myself to do it. Still holding out for my brain in a robot body, I guess. At least I have a couple of people in mind who can be my literary executors; other than that, my fiancé and I are already also listed as survivors/beneficiaries/co-owners on a number of things.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Well, now I know, it's not all about money, it's about underwear.

Like I have said here before, if you see me wearing a thong that means I have a flip flop sticking out of my ass.

stacy said...

I dunno. I think not having a will would be in line with Prince's philosophy. He's not around to control it now, so it seems like he'd let it go. I hope whoever gets control respects his artistry.

Still pretty gutted. Some of it comes from the awful timing. One more day, things might have been different.

The world is a bit duller now without him in it. I hope he got whatever he wanted to move onto. From all the stories I keep hearing about his generosity, he seemed like a really great person in addition to being a great musician. A lesson for us all on how to channel pain.

Julie Weathers said...

I have a scene burning through my mind that needs to be written, but I just glanced up to my bookcase and noticed the bible from 1860's. While it isn't particularly valuable, it has a lot of personal notes penciled in that make it historically interesting. I also have several signed first edition books and pick up collector books when I have money, which isn't often.

Make sure these books are noted specifically in your will if you have any so your heirs don't just box them up and toss them. Mark Twain left an extensive collection of his books to a library. Every book he read, he made notes in the margins as he read, which were incredible insights into his thoughts about literature. A helpful librarian put these books into a library book sale some years later as they weren't being read and decided to get rid of them. Boxes and boxes and boxes of them.

Of course, some savvy book buyer recognized what he saw and snapped them up.

Steve Forti said...

Hmm... something I have never thought of, or even knew existed. Thank you for this info. Now I need to make some more progress to have it matter that I now know this.

nightsmusic said...

You all do realize that you don't necessarily need a 'formal' will. You can write your wishes up on a piece of paper, take it to the bank to have it notarized and leave it hanging on your fridge for all to see and it will stand up in any court. One thing to note though. If you have a will, do NOT put your burial wishes in it. Don't put in what you want done, how you want the funeral, what music you want played, yada yada yada because the will won't get read until after all of that is over. So the bagpiper playing Amazing Grace will be a no-go unless those wishes are known up front.

Cheryl said...

Even unpublished writers? So what are the possibilities, then, for unpublished or even unfinished work?

Okay, if I have a friend who's a writer (ha!) whom I trust to finish my work, can they query it as a co-writer? Or if I die moments after declaring my masterpiece finished, can my husband query it?

Finding an executor is easy--I have a few friends in the publishing industry who would know potential gold when they see it--but (self-publishing aside) what can they possibly do with unpublished work anyway?

At the moment my usual executor has a list of passwords and instructions that if it looks good she can put it up on my blog.

Mark Ellis said...

I can see it now, and I don't want to: the great Prince track "Cream" being used to sell Noxema. Colin's right, you can't find his stuff on youtube, I've tried. Great post.

RKeelan said...


Does your husband have a website? I know a guy who desperately needs to start cooking more, and video-game theme kitchen stuff would be right up his alley.

Colin Smith said...

Cheryl: I recall Janet addressing this in an article some time ago. If I recall, you can specify in your will what is to happen to all of your unpublished work. If your husband, or trusted writer friend, were to approach an agent with your manuscript, that agent will want to see proof that they have the authority to act on your behalf. How much editorial control your hubbie/friend has will, I think, depend on how much you grant in your will.

That's what I recall, anyway.

Joseph Snoe said...

Today’s entry is so important. Like Joyce Tremel’s, my will is so old it’s practically useless. And for the life of me I have no idea who would be my Literary Executor.

Thanks Colin for the link to Neil Gaiman’s entry. One caveat, I like the suggested simple Will but beware: Each state has its own set of laws related to testamentary transfers including Wills. For example some states require three witnesses. The State may require the Will be notarized. A screw up and the Will will be unenforceable.

Nightmusic – No No No. A “Will” that does not meet the formalities of state law is unenforceable. The heirs may decide to do what Mom or Dad or Uncle Charlie wanted, but that’s far from a binding Will.

Most if not all states recognize purely handwritten wills (called holographic wills) that do not require the legal formalities. But it has to be totally handwritten. One purported holographic Will, for example, was tossed because the man wrote it on Holiday Inn stationery in his motel room; and the judge said the Holiday Inn heading at the top destroyed the legality.

As others pointed out, Will contests happen even with a well-drafted Will. After law school I clerked for a federal court of appeals judge. The first opinion I wrote involved a simple Will leaving one farm to the deceased’s son and one farm to his daughter. The case had three major issues (including a motion to remove the son as executor).

nightsmusic said...

Joseph Snoe, that is not what I was told by not only our lawyer, but also the high-powered, lots of money one I had to hire when my aunt died. Written, notarized, nothing they can do about it. They can contest it, but one can contest anything. So, going by what I've been told more than once, I stick by my statement and while I appreciate your background, maybe your state and mine differ.

Lucie Witt said...

For anyone reading the great NM and Joe Snoe debate, I'd point out that NM's situation worked out fine but (a) a lawyer was consulted and (2) that's a fairly uncommon outcome and quite risky. I've seen this technique cause great devastation for many families when it's not legally enforceable.

If you're worried about a family member contesting your will you can put in a no contest clause in there which basically says if you challenge this and lose you get nothing, even if the will otherwise says you are to inherit.

A final thought: when it comes to your estate planning docs there is "good enough" and "gets the job done" is not necessarily what you might want. Well done estate docs hold up for generations. I have a trust I currently work with that was created in 1921!

Panda in Chief said...

I recently asked someone to be my literary executor, but did not have all the information needed. Thanks for providing more pieces to the puzzle. I also need to set this up for my paintings/fine art as well.

Love the illustration of the Little Prince.

If it matters to us what happens to our creative work, we need to do these things.
My underwear drawer, you can just burn. Please.

Julie Weathers said...


I am in the middle of something that was left to me via a letter that was handwritten, signed, witnessed and notarized. So, no, that doesn't always stand up.

CynthiaMc said...

I had never even heard of this or the need for it until now. Thanks.

abnormalalien (Jamie A. Elias) said...

Icky. I know none of us are guaranteed another day but this was not what I wanted to think about this particular day! Still a good and necessary reminder.

BJ Muntain said...

Gaiman's blog post does say that the sample holographic will might not be legal in all states, but that it's a good example to give your lawyer so they know what you're talking about and what you want.

It's also a good idea to know what exactly your will says. After my dad died, my mum was telling people that my sister was the executor. My sister also believed she was the executor, since mum said so. My mum filled out some paperwork to get the government death benefit, only to find the executor had to apply for it. So she had my sister fill it out and send it off. Only afterwards, did she actually read the will and see that the will stated the surviving spouse was the executor, and my sister would be the executor if both died. It wasn't a major snafu, and it didn't cause a lot of trouble or anything, but I could see how a misunderstanding like this could cause trouble if there was a lot of money involved, or if it was a complicated situation.

I do think it's important that your family know your wishes. I'm always reminded of a woman I knew who wrote her own obituary not long before she died. In it, she called herself a 'writer'. I hadn't heard that of her, so I asked her adult children. They had no idea, but one daughter said, "Oh, she's got a few journals, but that's about it. Just a few poems." I asked if I could see them, maybe get them printed, if only for the family. "Oh, no. They're not important." That floored me. She obviously thought her writing was important enough to mention it in her own obituary. It broke my heart to think those things would never be read, or that her family thought so little of them. It was a wake-up call for me. said...

I made a new Will and other documents, including naming a literary executor, last June before I had knee replacement surgery. I used to work for an attorney who specialized in "elder law" and the legal jargon and concepts were very familiar. That part was a breeze. What was surprisingly difficult was having thoughts and conversations that began with, "When I die..." It was wrenching to think about what would happen and how my kids would handle it and what help they might or might not need. Difficult, but very much worth the peace of mind afterward.

Another thing I did was write a blog post about it, a sort of heads up to my regular blog readers and people who enjoy and look forward to my writing, to let them know my wishes as well. I figured it would make my executor's job easier if they knew up front, and heard it from me, that any unfinished work would remain unfinished and unpublished (your wishes may vary). Because I know how insistent people can be in pursuit of new stories. And sure enough, there were a couple comments on the blog and in email along the lines of, "Oh no, but we want more stories..." So even if you're not yet published, don't just assume no one will be interested in your work once you're gone. If you care at all about what happens to it, make your wishes clear. Designate someone you trust and put it in writing.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Sunday I spent at ER. Big scare, just a scare. Monday mail from insurance company: plan your funeral, pay up and keep your family serene. Today, this post.

I have an easy relationship with mortality. It doesn't bother me to talk about death. Yet I can't imagine the nightmare my spouse or child would have with my documents. They're well organized, at least I think they are, except three countries are involved.

Time to do some research. Thank you for this post.

Craig said...

Time for what are probably extra-anus comments.

How well you take care of this depends on what you can pay for, as in all things these days. Hiring an attorney and setting up a living will and running it through pre-probate would be best.

If you can't afford that there are legal aid people in most big cities that will help you set it up. There are even some templates for wills you can download from the interweb.

If you can set up a secondary executor for everything. It can be a dangerous world out there and nothing upsets the applecart more than have you executor pass before you do.

Setting it all up now will get you good karma points down the line.

Julie Weathers said...

Not related to literary items, but if you have special family items, label them. My aunt started sending me things before she died and sent a note along with each item.

Silver set the Danish Brotherhood gave to Pete and Annie when they moved to Oklahoma.

Pitcher and glasses that were your great grandmother's wedding gift.

Picture of Grandma's aunt who was a clerk in the bank when the James gang robbed it.

Your dad's Tom Mix books he used to buy with his chore money.

A box of old family photo's and mementos is interesting, but it means more when someone knows who they are and why this stuff is important.

I would also suggest as writers, somewhere, you write something special about each person who is dear to you so they know. We know they know, but leave them something crafted in your own beautiful words.

Joseph Snoe said...

A Will story. Today's discussion jarred my memory. It would be a a sad story if it was not so funny. (and it may give Lucie Witt nightmares)

I had a four week summer clerkship at a nice, highly reputable law firm after my second year of law school. A couple of memorable situations my month there.

In one, a major client, a fellow who owned tons of real estate and a large chain of stores in the city died (not my fault). He apparently was always revising his will. And it was a long Will. A partner came to me, very shaken, and asked me to read the residuary clause (that’s the clause that devises all the rest and remainder of an estate after the specific bequests).

No one had caught that in all the revisions, the final result gave 25% to A, 25 % to B, 25% to C, 25 % to D and 25 % to E.

I have no idea how that was resolved (though they did call their malpractice insurance carrier immediately).

Joseph Snoe said...

Good idea, Julie, about writing notes for people.

I keep thinking I should leave a bequest to whomever takes care of my cat after I bark my way to another existence.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Last year one of our Relief Society workshops was on wills in Western Australia. It was most eye-opening.

Sure, His Grace and I had a will, but it was one of those DIY will kits.

We're currently redrafting, and yes, I've included my intellectual estate in there, though I haven't considered a literary executor. Should ask our attorney about that.

Anyhow, just thought I'd mention that (at least in WA) your safe deposit box is NOT the place to store your one-and-only copy of your will. It's like locking your car key in your car--it takes a lot of time and effort to retrieve it.

Here in WA we have a government agency that runs a Will Bank. You can store your will here for free and they will even contact your executor should they learn you've carked it (and nobody has yet to approach them about it).

Oddly enough, I was dwelling on the Eternal Verities yesterday, as it was my birthday. This made me feel alive. Alas, i also have a terrible cold, which makes me feel half-dead. Terribly unfair on one's birthday.

John Davis Frain said...

Where were you when your real estate mogul died. Because our records seem to indicate that you are, in fact, "E" and it raises our curiosity about your alleged whereabouts on the night in question.

If you wouldn't mind coming downtown, routine, nothing to worry about, we just want to cross your name off our list.

Did I say short list? Hm, don't worry about it. But while you're not worrying about it, if you wouldn't mind opening wide, think like you're at the dentist, and let me just swab this Q-tip real quick --


I understand it wasn't your fault. When you say that, are you telling me it was an accident? You didn't mean for it to happen? I understand, tell me a little more what you mean when you say that. What wasn't your fault exactly? That you happened to be there or that he happened to die while you were there?

Excuse me, been waiting for this call. Give me a minute here, can I get you a drink? You're looking a little thirsty. Right back.

Panda in Chief said...

A number of states have Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts thingies. I know Washington State does, or at least used to. I am going to check with Artist's Trust, an umbrella arts organization, and see if they have some resources. It seems like a couple years ago they gave a workshop on artist estate planning. I will post the link if they have any information useful to anyone here.
I'm not at a place in my my financial life where I have the money to consult an estate attorney. I just have a simple do it yourself will, which I guess is better than nothing. Time to update it and add the literary stuff I guess.
The Will Bank in WA sounds like a great idea. Wish we had something like that here.

BJ Muntain said...

You Grace: My Mum keeps her will in her safety deposit box, and she and Dad kept their joint will there. However, they also gave me power of attorney over their safety deposit box, so if anything happened to both of them (now just to Mum), I would still be able to go in and get the will. I don't know if that's possible in Australia, or if many Canadians know about it - Mum used to work in banks, so she knew all the ins and outs - but it may be possible.

John Davis Frain said...

BJ, get ready to duck away from any suspicious fins.

Somebody crept into your post and added a "ty" to your safe deposit boxes. I'm pretty sure that's perfectly legit in your part of Canada, but there are parts of New York -- maybe within FinePrint Liteary's ZIP code -- where the practice is frowned upon.

But I don't know my lay from my lie, so don't take my word for it.

Joseph Snoe said...

John Frain

i just served the food. I didn't cook it. We have some leftovers if you're hungry.

AJ Blythe said...

As well as considering your literary achievements, don't forget your non-adult kids. Specify in your will who you want to be guardians should you and your partner both cark it - and talk to your kids about it.

Heckle and Jeckle know they will always be loved and cared for because they will go to their Gran and Grumpy, and (because we future proofed our wills) if they are unable to care for them, to their Aunt and Uncle.

Her Grace (Happy Birthday for yesterday), not sure if West Oz is the same as the east coast, but my understanding is the Government ones supersede any future wills unless you also register/lodge them with the government. So if you make any future wills be sure to withdraw/swap the one you've already registered.

In Australia, your will can be written by you so long as it has two witnesses. No lawyers necessary. And as Her Grace said, you can get a will kit where you fill in the blanks. We can't do holographic wills, and it is very easy for your properly witnessed will to be challenged (and overthrown) in court, regardless of whether it was a do-it-yourself, or done-by-expensive-lawyer will.

Lucie Witt said...


(1) That gives me the shivers (2) I've seen something similar happen and ... the cleanup is NOT pretty.

BJ Muntain said...

John, my fingers have minds of their own (yes, each of them) and at that late-ish hour, my other mind can't keep track of them all. So I blame my fingers and my half-asleep mind. :P

Joseph Snoe said...

Lucie -
Yay. I can write thrillers that send shivers down your spine after all.

P.S. After my post yesterday I searched the web to see what happened with the awkward Will. I didn't find anything on point but a man having the same surname as one of the firm's name partners is the Executive Trustee for the deceased's ongoing trust. I assume from that all was worked out.

Thinking more about the actual event way back when, I think the problem occurred because the man was on his death bed and changes and drafts were flying back and forth. I don't remember the specifics of the residuary clause at all, but I do recall it was long, like with generational trusts, and contingent remainders and contingent trustees, for each principal devisee.

Joseph Snoe said...

BJ - I can relate. The other day I washed my fingers and couldn't do a thing with them.

Miles O'Neal said...

Thanks, Janet. We're long overdue for a will rewrite, and this needs to go into it.