If you listened to the podcast series S-Town, you will see why John McLemore’s dying without a will had negative consequences on those he cared for.  McLemore was an eccentric horologist from the small town of Woodstock, Alabama.  I learned that horology is the scientific study of time and involves the making of clocks.  McLemore made and repaired clocks.

McLemore had a very close relationship with Tyler Goodson, his friend and employee.  He told Tyler that he could have anything he wanted after he died.  This never happened because McLemore did not have a will.  When McLemore committed suicide, he left behind an elderly mother with dementia, real estate, personal property and other valuables that we may never know the extent of–as he never specified what he had and where he kept it.  It was all a mystery.  The rumors were that he had a lot of money including blocks of gold.

If McLemore had a will–life would have been so much simpler for his friends and his family.  He consulted with an attorney, but never completed the process.  And, what is even sadder is that he did not die unexpectedly but planned his death, proclaiming to those who knew him that he would commit suicide one day.  And he did.

If McLemore had wanted to take care of Tyler Goodson after he died, he never took the action that he should have to make this happen.  And, thus, Tyler was unable to legally get what John McLemore had promised him.  Rita, McLemore’s cousin drove up from Florida to take care of McLemore’s mother and take control of the estate.  Perhaps this worked out for the best, who knows. What we do know is that McLemore did not put into writing how he wanted his affairs to be handled and this created havoc for all involved.

You should have a will so you and only you can determine what happens to your estate when you die.  Why leave it to chance and leave a burden for your family and friends.  The most selfish thing you can do is fail to take care of this critical matter.  What if you are a single mother?  Who do you want to take care of your minor children if you die unexpectedly.  If you don’t specify a guardian (assuming the child’s father is not in the picture), this will be left to the courts to decide.

If you are elderly (and even if you are not) and do not have a durable power of attorney, what happens when you have a stroke and have brain damage and you cannot make decisions?  A durable power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone you choose the power to act in your place if you become mentally incapacitated.  You will need a durable power of attorney for medical care and financial matters.  A durable power of attorney allows the person you designate to take care of important matters while you are alive but unable to handle these matters.  How about a health care directive or living will–where you specify your wishes regarding medical treatment when you are no longer able to express your wishes—if you are in a coma or incapacitated in some way.

Don’t prolong this.  Your death will be devastating enough, don’t burden your loved ones with the havoc that will result when you die without a will.  John McLemore is a real life example of how not having a will hurt those who John McLemore cared for.

Ferah Ozbek is a retired from the United States Air Force where she served as an active duty judge advocate for over 20 years.  She continues to practice military law and represents military members and veterans who are facing injustice.  To learn more about how Ferah can help you, send her an e-mail at [email protected] and visit her website at ferahozbek.com