What you can read below was thrown together as a public service. You probably already know what I have written and more, but if it saves only one person from unnecessary grief – or motivates only one person to take immediate action, my good intentions will not be wasted.

May I begin by saying that a person who leaves a will to go through probate is like a child who reaches through the bars to pat a tiger, because she has never seen a tiger before. We now understand that writing a will that must go through probate might not be the smartest way to distribute property to loved ones.

That said, here’s what I’ve learned after only two weeks of getting a will through probate.

You do not leave a will that gives a book to one, a shovel to another and a nail clipper to another.

Why? When your lawyer friend helps you get the will through probate, you’re providing several days employment for your friend’s clerks and secretaries. It entails the manufacture of mountains of printed paper that is distributed to everyone mentioned in the will. Without even having to think about it, you have become the beneficent mother of all bureaucrats.

And that’s just for starters. I have yet to learn if I am permitted to load up my car and drive about town delivering books and spoons to heirs or if I must wait until instructed to do so by a Judge of Probate.


There are ways of avoiding the probate nightmare. The revocable trust was recently mentioned by the deceased, but was one of those unpleasant bookish chores that was easily put off when the asparagus needed to be mulched with seaweed.

While floundering in the probate net I recalled seeing in the St. George tax records that many of the most valuable pieces of property in town belonged to the “So and So Family Trust.” The property next to mine, for example, perhaps worth a million, is in trust – probably because the owner was a lawyer who had a firm grasp on things that wouldn’t even occur to those of us who are mere linguists or historians.

I then read that trusts avoid probate – which is a major reason many of the cognoscenti put their property in a trust. Transferring assets with a trust is a private process that keeps the idly curious from knowing exactly what happened after Grampy gambled $25,000 on Warren Buffett in 1956.

If properly mismanaged, probate can drag out over years, destroying happy families as they hire even better lawyers to help them fight for “their rightful share.”

The bottom line seems to be that a trust can help your heirs avoid a long and costly probate.

Because most of us don’t have much of anything to pass along, the thought of putting our back 40 into a trust used to sound pompous. But now I would consider a trust if I had only an acre of swamp in Eastport.


Please don’t leave your heirs with a handful of old promissory notes. If you have loaned money to panicked friends who came to you in tears for cash to pay taxes, at least make an effort to collect it. You can go to your grave as a good and generous person, but all your heirs will look like rat finks when a man with a badge and thick soled shoes knocks on doors to collect.

If you are determined to leave a will, do keep your executor/personal representative aware of things that change in your life: Remove the people in your will who died and remove property that you no longer own. Make sure that your executor has a copy of your will. Mark an old will void or destroy it when you have made one to replace it. Don’t leave the only copy of your last will where any person who opens your desk drawer can lay hands on it.

Until I learn more, a revocable trust is the way I’m going to go.

It is human nature to think that we are immortal and that we can easily tell our children where we buried the silver ladle when we come home from our Pompeii or Mount St. Helens vacation. Most youngsters are unable to say, “Hey Grampy, is your revocable trust up to date?” So if you answer to “Grampy,” the ball is in your court.

How many times have you heard that when grandfather died, his loving wife followed him soon after?

It was not grief that killed Grammy but the stress of getting a will through probate.

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:

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