Death Is No Excuse

Death Is No Excuse

I never thought that I would say this but the funniest book I read this month was Death is No Excuse, a book about wills, trusts, and guardianships.

It is amazing how fast distributing your assets after death can go horribly, and hilariously, wrong. Each chapter of the book ends with a parable of what can go wrong if you don’t follow the author’s guidance. The author is a probate lawyer. His advice is almost invariably to see an attorney. It is a penny-wise, pound-foolish type of lesson. Don’t try to save a few thousand dollars and have your entire estate get eaten up by lawyer fees after your death when at least one person contests your will.

I am a certified public accountant, who really thought I knew a lot about estate planning. However, this book introduced many pitfalls I didn’t know existed. Even if you put a standard no contest clause in your will, your aggrieved relatives can sue each other civilly for the tort of Intentional Interference with Testamentary Expectancy. So, instead of suing your estate for undue influence, they are suing each other with no risk of losing whatever small amount your will gifted them originally.

Another unusual tip is that you should add a “Gift-Over” or Doomsday clause in your will. In case everyone named in your will predeceases you, you name a final backstop, possibly a charity, to get your estate. Better a charity than the government, am I right?

The best tip that I found in the book is never move to New Hampshire if anyone in your life is looking to achieve “inheritance by baseball bat”. New Hampshire is the only state without a slayer law that prevents a killer from inheriting or otherwise benefiting from his or her victim’s death. And the cause doesn’t have to be as dramatic as a 1940s noir. Even if your intent wasn’t to kill but you accidentally killed the deceased while doing something else bad, you can still be disinherited. Or disallowed from their pension’s spousal benefits. Or whatever, you get the idea.

If you are thinking about getting your affairs in order, there is no funnier and less sleep-inducing way to learn more about the surprisingly complex process than reading Death Is No Excuse. You will find yourself chuckling at the mishaps of others while preventing the same fate from befalling your estate. 5 stars.

Thanks to Book Baby and NetGalley for a digital review copy of the book.

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