Hands up those who haven't written a will or updated your old one to reflect a new spouse or live-in partner? Well, I'm here to tell you that you may, erm, live to regret it, especially if you have property or children. And by property, I mean intellectual property as well as bricks and mortar.
Surely no one of sound mind would want to leave behind the financial chaos that Stieg Larsson did? He's the author of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and the follow-ups that have gone on to make millions of dollars... for his father and brother from whom he was estranged -- because he hadn't written a will leaving his intellectual property to his live-in girlfriend of almost 30 years.
So, just in case the book I wrote six years ago gets re-published in the event of my demise and becomes a best-seller, or one of my reality TV show ideas gets picked up, or my screenplay gets made into a hit movie, I have revoked all previous wills (vital to say that) and left 50 percent to my husband and 25 percent each to my adult children.
One of the many advantages of being a woman is that you actually know how many kids you've had. You'd be surprised how many men father children they don't know about, so best mention your beneficiaries by name.
I recall writing about the importance of having a will every year during "Write Your Will Week" in the U.K. Some PR agency would send out the best worst-case scenarios. There are no doubt differences in estate laws in the two countries, but you'll get the gist and the potential for disaster.
How about the case of the elderly couple where everything was in the husband's name and they assumed the house would automatically go to the wife upon his death? No. A niece and nephew who they had never met had a claim on a percentage of the value of the house. There weren't enough savings to pay them off and they insisted the house be sold immediately to give them their share.
When you write your will, you have to cover every eventuality. What if you and your spouse die in an accident, who will look after your kids? What if you are all killed in an accident? If there isn't a will, and a childless couple die at the same time, the older of the two (usually the husband) is deemed to have died first and his wife's family could inherit everything while his family gets nothing. If you can't afford fancy lawyers' fees, www.legalzoom.com is a good place to start (I have no affiliation with that company).
If there's no legal document, it can take years to sort out an estate and cost a small fortune. While you're at it, you need to discuss with your family and state clearly in your will if you want your organs used for transplantation, the sort of funeral service you want, and if you'd want life support systems turned off.
I had a very emotional discussion with my sister about it so be warned but best to make your wishes known. To put it in simple terms and with respect to their families, I do not want my life prolonged if I'm in Terri Schiavo's position or Christopher Reeve's. My sister would still want to live if she were either paralyzed from the neck down like Christopher Reeve or in a permanent vegetative state like Terri Schiavo. Fair enough. Not me.
I suspect Terri Schiavo would not have wanted her family to show film of her once vibrant and beautiful self in a vegetative state. So, just to be clear, no film of me looking anything less than vibrant and healthy, thank you.
Another useful tip: after years of working in television newsrooms, I have learned it's always a good idea to have a decent photograph of yourself looking your absolute best readily available in the event you ever get murdered or kidnapped, because the press will keep using whichever one they first lay their hands on and that's usually the one of you drunk at the office party or dressed in drag. You're welcome.