After you pass away, you probably do not want your own and your family’s
“dirty laundry” aired for the whole world to see. The repercussions
it could have for your surviving family members could be devastating,
not to mention what could happen to your own lasting reputation and legacy.
If you pass away with just a
will for your
estate plan, this might be exactly the case for your family’s future.
A will is public knowledge. As our McKinney estate planning law blog has
previous blog entries, upon your death and during the
probate period, creditors are notified, and essentially the contents of the will are
revealed. With a
trust in place, though, you will not have this issue.
In the cases where a trust has in fact been created, the details of any
relevant documents are kept private. Transactions are handled with discretion
and are not broadcast for just anyone to locate and research.
An Unfortunate Legacy Made Public
“No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without
at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.” –
John Willingham, the great-great-great-great uncle of
Attorney Taylor Willingham, left a last will and testament behind upon his death that stirs up controversy
and some ashamedness in Taylor today. However, it serves as a fantastic
example as to why it is so important to protect your family’s private
matters with a trust, rather than dropping everything into a will.
Here is the full will of John Willingham of the 18th century:
THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF JOHN WILLINGHAM OF LUNENBURG CO., VIRGINIA
-- In the Name of God Amen I John Willingham of the County of Lunenburg
and parish of Cumberland being sick and weak and only considering the
uncertainty of human life do make and ordain this my last Will and Testament[.]
First and principally I commit my Soul into the hands of my blessed Maker
trusting in his Mercies and in the Mercies of my dear Redeemer for the
Remission of all my sins desiring my Body may be decently enter'd
at the discretion of my Executrix hereinafter Named and as to my Estate
that it has pleased God to bless my withall after all my just Debts are
punctually paid[.] I Give and Dispose of it in the following manner: Item
I Give and bequeath to my son Thomas one shilling sterling [--] Item I
Give and bequeath to my son John one shilling sterling [--] Item I Give
and bequeath to my daughter Christian my Negro boy Peter (I having already
them two sons what I desired for them) [--] Item I Give and bequeath to
my son Gerrald my Negro boy Jamey, one feather bed and furniture two cows
and calves two sows and pigs, one mare and the land and plantation whereon
I now live and also ninety acres of land joining aforesaid plantation
to him and his heirs and assigns forever. Desiring my beloved wife have
possession of the said land during her widowhood or life. And as to the
residue remainder of my estate be it of what nature soever it will I lend
it to my beloved wife during her widowhood or life and then do give and
bequeath it to be equally divided between my two daughters Viz. Amey and
Betty unless my beloved wife should think fit to give proportion and I
do appoint and ordain my beloved wife Mary my whole and sole executrix
of this my last will and testament making void and null all other wills
by me made here and do acknowledge this only to be my last will and testament.
In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 2nd day of
February 1750. John Willingham, LS
When Attorney Willingham first read this will, he was shocked. It was probably
the first time in his life that he was ashamed of his last name. For his
whole life, he has loved his last name, finding it to be strong. He has
always considered his father, grandfather, grandmother, and every Willingham
he has ever known as a great person.
But then, there is this will from a far-distant uncle. The past must sometimes
be seen as a foreign country, where the denizens lived with different
outlooks, circumstances, and understandings. However, Taylor has said
he struggles with the idea that someone in his family line claimed ownership
over another human being. Obviously, anyone reading this today would be
struck by the bequest of human beings to his children. That he was a slaveholder,
that he left his slaves as pieces of property to his various children,
is what is now associated with his great uncle’s legacy and reputation.
To read his uncle’s rather casual mention of his slaves forever
clouds his opinion, and he is sure that holds true for anyone who reads
An Embarrassing Will Can Happen to Any Lineage
You might think to yourself, “There is nothing I could put into my
will that would look as bad as owning slaves.” However, take a moment
to consider how times have changed just in our lifetimes. No more than
20 years ago, it was common for parents to disinherit their gay son or
daughter. Maybe you have changed your position on this issue over the
past two decades. Often what is acceptable today will not be in the future.
Perhaps keeping the core beliefs of your family private is not such a bad idea.
How might the privacy that you gain from doing a trust instead of a will
be applicable today? Imagine that you choose to disinherit one of your
kids, whatever the reason may be. This matter should be kept private,
it should pertain only to those directly affected and not to the world
at large. Keep it in the family and you will be happier for it later.
Even if it never comes back up in your life, you will find immediate peace
of mind in knowing that it is not being broadcasted.
McKinney Estate Planning Attorney – 214.499.9647
Willingham Law Firm, PC is the estate planning and probate law firm you
know you can trust. We will be absolutely honest and transparent with
you throughout your case, doing everything we can to protect your best
interests. To date, we have managed
thousands of sensitive and complex cases for our clients and we would be happy to
see what we can do for you as well.
free case evaluation with our McKinney estate planning lawyers?
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