Yes, You Need a Will

Even if you hold the opinion that when you are turned into ashes or compost, and you had no one to guide you on the path to the grave, and you believe that it simply won’t matter what transpires afterwards, you still should have a will.

According to recent surveys, approximately 50% of Canadians do not have a valid will. (Curiously, the percentage of lawyers who do not have a valid will is approximately the same as the general population.) It seems that there are groups who believe that a Will is a document to be written on one’s deathbed.

Other than making it a great deal easier for whoever is left when you “shuffle off this mortal coil” (Shakespeare), there are some other benefits that you may want to ponder.

For instance, since you likely have no relatives, or least ones that you would want to inherit your money, perhaps you would like to see it go to your favourite charity. Possibly you would like to set up an event or a fund in your name. Do you have a treasured item that one of your friends has admired that you would like to pass on to them? Don’t forget about your digital footprint; perhaps you would like to designate someone to delete your on-line accounts and erase your hard drive. What about making sure that your pets are cared for?

And finally, and this is my favourite, how about throwing a grand farewell party in memory of you for all of your friends. I’m sure that they will drink many a toast to you. No doubt if you think about it for a short while, you can add to this list.

You see, the downside of not having a will is that if you don’t have one, the government will make one for you after you have died. (In a future post I’ll share with you my personal experience in dealing with this matter. Stay tuned!) And if you have sufficient funds remaining after they have taken their fees, and hired lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers and other talent to assist them, they just may leave whatever is left to a niece or a nephew or a second cousin that you didn’t even know existed let alone ever sent you a Christmas card. And failing that they will simply park it in the government’s coffers.

You may decide to craft your own document by purchasing a kit for a few dollars or perhaps even by researching the subject at your local library. Nevertheless, this is such an important document that I believe that most people would want to consult with a lawyer who has experience in these matters. From my own experience I discovered that this whole subject can be tricky and results may vary significantly by jurisdiction. When a person dies without a valid will, it is referred to as “intestate” and matters become complicated. As an elderorphan, it is unlikely that there will be a host of people scrambling to become your Estate Trustee, a role which for the most part mirrors that of an Executor named in a will.

In the second paragraph above I used the adjective “valid” to describe a will. It is important to understand that even though you may think that you have a will, there are circumstances that might render it invalid. In most jurisdictions, if you were married after your will was executed, it immediately became invalid. Likewise if you were divorced, parts of your will might be considered invalid. Check it out!

So please invest a few dollars or at least some time and prepare a will. If you do a bit of research on the subject you will discover that in some provinces in Canada you can in fact create a handwritten will from your deathbed known as a holographic Will, and it will be legal if a number of conditions are met. There is a famous (and interesting) case that addresses this. On 8 June 1948 in Saskatchewan, Canada, a farmer named Cecil George Harris who had become trapped under his own tractor carved a will into the tractor’s fender. It read, “In case I die in this mess I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo. Harris.” The fender was probated and stood as his will.

Oh, and one more anecdote…..

After the funeral, Mrs. Smith was talking with her best friend about the dearly departed. “You know, he never wanted to leave home, wanted to spend all his retirement years right here in town. He just refused to take me to Hawaii or even to take a cruise in the Mediterranean.”

“Oh, you poor dear,” said the friend, “and now you’ll never see those places.”

“I dunno,” smiled Mrs. Smith, “You know … where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

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The Jobless Future

This post doesn’t have a great deal to do specifically with elder orphans other than to reinforce the notion that a lot of us will be comforted by the fact that we don’t have children and/or grandchildren to worry about. (See my earlier post Behind Closed Doors.) Since I have the keys to be forewarned that I will likely stray off on a tangent from time to time.

I tend to rely a great deal on the Internet for my daily dose of politics, social issues and technology and recently came across this article on entitled “Here’s When Machines Will Take Your Job, as Predicted by AI (Artificial Intelligence) Gurus”. It suggests that many top minds think that automation will cost humans their employment, with up to 47% of all jobs gone in the next 25 years. For example, we should get Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven machines in retail by 2031. By 2049, AI should be writing New York Times bestsellers and performing surgeries by 2053. And if you think that there will still be plenty of jobs in the service industry that will be isolated from this effect, the essay suggests that an unlikely task such as folding laundry should be a breeze for AI by 2022.

There is no shortage of stories on this topic. This morning’s local newspaper featured an a article suggesting that a 3D printer will soon be able to create a small house in 10 hours, for $10,000 and that you’ll be able to speak English into a specially designed cell phone and the person you’re speaking to in Tokyo will hear you in perfect Japanese.

There are of course naysayers who refuse to accept these ideas. I recall about 30 years ago I enrolled in an evening class in digital electronics at the local community college. The instructor related a story of how as a young man he was part of a team at IBM who were tasked with the challenge of building a factory that would operate entirely without humans. The project was successful and achieved the goal of producing telephones. When it was proven that it could be done, the entire operation was dismantled. Few would argue that AI could replace most workers, but the question is whether it will happen. For an argument on the other side see “Robo-AI jobs doomsday may, er… not actually happen.”

I can’t imagine a life without a job. I confess that I was one of the early adopters of the idea that the average non-professional would have several different careers throughout out working years. I was a technician, a sales rep, a teacher, an entrepreneur and held senior management positions in diverse industries, just to present a partial snapshot of my life. All of these positions engaged me and challenged me, but it was always exciting to move on to something new. It occurs to me that a life without a job and without the opportunity to advance in experience and income, it would have been a boring existence. I enjoyed working, and I enjoyed being rewarded for my efforts.

This brings me to wondering what the sociologists will predict about how our world will function without jobs. Will this become like permanent vacation? Will people spend their time playing golf, strumming a guitar and creating works of art? It sounds grand until one ponders where these people will find the income to pursue these pastimes. Certainly a few of the very wealthy do share their fortunes with those who have little income but there are many more who resent the idea of paying people not to work. Will there be a massive shift in the way the tax system works. Will we tax the robots for taking our jobs? Or there will be anarchy and chaos in our society!

I feel compassion for those people in the coal industry and in manufacturing who struggle today, but when these predictions come to pass, could we witness a social/political revolution? And as an early baby boomer, it is possible that this could transpire in my lifetime.

Do you sometimes wish that after you have passed from this earth that in a hundred years you would be able to peek into the workings of our world to witness what happened? But then again, I doubt that in our super-consciousness that we would want to spend a lot of time reflecting on how humans managed to mess up the world. We may just want to spend our time in heaven, playing golf and strumming a guitar.

Further reading:

The Economist – Automation and anxiety

The Guardian – Robots will destroy our jobs – and we’re not ready for it

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