The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.—"Princess Leia" in Star Wars (A New Hope). My wife and I realized that our wills were twenty years old and out of date. We now have a bigger house, more assets, more guitars, more jewelry. Our kids are now in their twenties and no longer need a guardian. So we went to a lawyer who asked us our requirements. Basically, my will is “the kids split it all” but it took the lawyer 85 pages of legal jargon to say it. As I was proofreading the final document, I found a whole paragraph defining the number 30 and I burst out laughing. Clearly this paragraph was the result of a lawsuit. When I complained, the lawyer replied, “But remember, when the will is being disputed in court, the judge needs to understand your intentions—because you’re dead and can’t explain.” ‘Because you’re dead.’ The reason it takes 85 pages to explain “the kids split it all” is because you’re not able to explain yourself when things go wrong. The lawyer is actually counseling you as to the options of what to do with your assets when you’re gone. Our lawyer asked about other assets such as expensive jewelry and musical instruments. We have both. For the jewelry, the lawyer recommended a “sweet young thing” clause—which sounded pretty compelling to me. Actually, alas, this clause is for Susan’s will: if Susan dies and remarries, Susan’s daughter—not Steve’s new wife—will get Susan’s jewelry. I remarked that I didn’t see how I could attract a new wife without Susan’s jewelry but that just got a frown from both Susan and the lawyer. But really! Do we have to write this down? Apparently. Look at the families who have been ripped asunder, fighting over family heirlooms. It happens more often than you might think. Over dinner, I explained the basics of the new wills, that they would split it all, that my daughter would get Susan’s jewelry and my son would get my guitars. After all, my son Chip is a professional musician. He plays bass for a great rock band called The Alternate Routes (Their songs are available from Amazon and iTunes. Download them. Please). It seemed logical that he should get my guitars until my daughter said, “But Daddy, I want one of your guitars.” She doesn’t play but she’s been hearing me play since she was a baby. That makes sense too. Good thing we talked about it. Then the kids started arguing over which of the five guitars my daughter could have. They both wanted the one I play the most—which is also my best one. It’s a 1979 Martin HD-28 in pristine condition. The disagreement started friendly enough—you know, kind of kidding around but not really—and then it got kind of mean. For a few days it created a wall between them until I solved the problem differently. I found and bought another Martin, a D-35 in pristine condition. You can specify exactly what you want—but only when you know exactly what you want. Unnecessary detail wastes time and energy. Guessing often makes things worse. A more agile approach usually makes more sense. Don’t try to anticipate every potential interpretation or misunderstanding. After all, if questions arise about your business case, your marketing plan, your market requirements document, or any other artifact, you’re alive! People can ask for clarification.
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