I don’t have a will, but that’s ok, as I don’t plan on dying.
But just in case, here is some advice for my children: Perish all thought of an inheritance.
There is a fantasy in our culture, of the bequest, the found money, the generous treasure that salves the pains of death. It works on the theory that our diligent and thrifty forebears have scrimped and saved and that when, at long last, they shuck off this mortal coil, we get their leavings.
The house, the savings, the condo in Boca.
It becomes a lust for us, a filthy lucre on the far side of a flatline.
And it divides people. This child’s spouse argues that it should go this way or that and as grampa is lowered into the ground people are at one another’s throats. Siblings against siblings, widow against daughter-in-law, cousins against cousins.
As if all the deceased left of value were things of value.
I have seen it in my own family, I have observed it in the families of others, I have seen lifelong grudges begin, and wounds inflicted that never heal. It’s as if families die with their progenitor.
So I say this to my children: I have nothing of greater value to you than one another.
In fact, all I truly leave you is one another. The ones born and the ones yet to be born. What I want you to take at my death is the responsibility to bind my family together. The pile of loot I will leave when I die is hardly enough for a yard sale, but the collection of people is all the treasure in the world.
And you must not allow the lesser to turn you away from the greater.
Or all I will have left you ultimately is sorrow.
As to my material possessions, I have few. I preferred children to a savings account, and have happily sunk the means with which the Lord has blessed me into groceries and school clothes and tuitions. I grew up in poverty, and always expected to fall back to it again, and became tolerant of its hungry lingering at the end of the driveway. Pay day has always come as a relief to me, and while I may have managed my finances poorly, I have paid my tithing and fed my family honorably by the sweat of my brow.
So there’s not much stuff.
My most valued possessions are my books. I recognize that they may seem like waste and rubbish to others, but they mean much more to me. They are a lifetime’s accumulation, mostly from thrift stores and yard sales, and each has caught my attention. I have a library, and an aspirational reading list, and I hope I have life and mind and sight enough in my last years to learn from them whatever they can teach. In early life I escaped into books, in latter life I may wish to do so again.
I would like my daughter Aubrey to be the curator of my books upon my death or incompetence, to divide or distribute or do with as she judges, as she will largely understand their gathering and significance. I hope that they might find themselves ultimately on the shelves of my progeny, as seeds for their own curiosity and collection.
I would like my son Lee to be the steward and distributor of my guns. They have functional value, but little monetary value. They were gathered with an eye to providing my children in their adulthood with the means to protect themselves and their homes. I hope he will carry out that end, if I have not done so myself by the time of my passing.
I have kept a journal most years of my adult life. I would like them to be owned or shared in such a way as to allow all my progeny access to their contents. At my death, I would like my marathon medals to be distributed so that each child or grandchild gets one, as a keepsake.
There are other items of sentimental value that I hope would be divvied up in a spirit of love and prayer. The Bible my mother gave me on my eighth birthday. The scriptures I carried on my mission. The deer antlers that hung on my grandmother’s garage. My Uncle Al’s hunting knife. The keepsakes and memorabilia of my children. Family photos.
The house and our camp go, of course, to my wife, to do with as she sees right, along with all our marital assets for her maintenance.
Beyond that, I want a family council comprised of my children to decide. Jack will preside, and decisions of distribution or liquidation will be made my simple majority vote of the other eight, with Jack casting a deciding vote in the event of a tie. They may choose to delegate the duty to one of their own, or to a retainer. But they are to work as a group, and I hope they will have a spirit of generosity and love amongst themselves, and want more than anything to come away from the work with nothing more valuable than their love for one another and identity as a member of our family.
Because nothing else matters. For my family or any family.
There is no treasure other than the treasure of the heart, and family is the only inheritance that counts.
And those who would fight over a dead man’s leavings are the shallowest and saddest of all.