Tim Dowling: we’ve finally made our wills, and my wife’s is a lot longer than mine

In hindsight, a memorial service may not have been the best occasion at which to finalise the legal formalities

At long last, my wife and I have wills. Over three decades of marriage we have had countless conversations about the importance of having wills, without ever taking any steps to achieve that aim. When our children were young we formulated arrangements for their care in the event of our fiery deaths, but then failed to tell anyone what they were. We got away with that oversight, but we can’t dodge the need for wills – we’re going to die at some point.

Our new wills are virtually identical, although early on in the process my wife tried to insert some language into hers that would make any second marriage on my part a difficult prospect.

“These are very unattractive stipulations,” I said.

“I’m just trying to protect you,” she said. “I know how gullible you are.”

“If the children are prepared to accept my new life with Janet, then …”

“Who is Janet?”

“She’s hypothetical,” I said.

My wife would not be dissuaded from this course until our draft wills arrived by email and she saw how much longer hers was – pages longer. Only then did she drop her unattractive stipulations in favour of the simple, generous wording found in my will: I leave everything, the whole of my estate and effects, of whatsoever nature and wherever situate, to my said wife absolutely.

My understanding is that this is pretty much what would happen even if I didn’t make my wishes plain, but our lawyer Martin says the main problem with dying intestate is the difficulty your heirs face in proving you left no will.

Our completed wills arrive by post, printed on posh paper, but they still must be signed and, according to our lawyer Martin, the legal requirements surrounding the signing are quite specific. He suggests we meet to complete the process. We do nothing about this.

Some weeks later my wife and I are getting ready to go to a memorial service. I am pondering the fragility of existence while colouring in the moth holes in my suit. You never know when your time is up, I think, dabbing the pale lining beneath each hole with the point of a Sharpie. My wife walks into the kitchen with her coat already on.

“Get your will,” she says. “We need to bring them.”

“Why?” I say. “Is it like an entry requirement?”

“No, but Martin’s gonna be there,” she says. “We have to get this done.”

At the end of the memorial service we find Martin outside, and re-enter the church. After plucking two witnesses – Sam and Rebecca – from the tide of leaving mourners, we slip into the back pew for the signing.

“Why are we doing this here?” says Rebecca. “For the atmosphere?”

“You two have to sign first,” says Martin, pointing at my wife and me. “And the other two must sign to say they’ve seen you sign.” Pens are distributed.

“What’s today’s date?” says Sam.

“Why haven’t you left me anything in your will?” says Rebecca, turning to page two of my wife’s document.

“Why are you reading my will?” my wife says.

“I don’t sign anything without reading it first,” Rebecca says.

“I’ve done a separate letter of wishes for small bequests,” my wife says. “You’re not in that either.”

“Is this really your signature?” says Sam, pointing at my will.

“Yeah,” I say.

“I know,” my wife says. “So babyish.”

“It looks like you had some kind of seizure in the middle,” says Sam.

“You’re just supposed to witness it,” I say. “Not review it.”

“Done,” says Rebecca, handing back her pages. With both wills signed, witnessed and dated, my wife and I leave the church, testate for the first time ever. At last, I think, I can die in peace. Or, alternatively, re-marry without financial penalty.

Later, of course, I realise that making a will is only the start of easing the burden of those who survive me. By naming her as an executor I have basically assigned the loathsome chore of dissolving my existence to my said my wife absolutely. If nothing else, I could do her a massive favour just by throwing away all my shit.

“Or maybe, if you’re lucky, it will be Janet’s problem,” I tell her.

“Where is my will?” she says. “I want to make a few changes.”

A week after the memorial service, lawyer Martin emails us to point out that although our wills were signed and dated in 2023, they were written and dated in 2022. This is irregular, he says, and they really should be done again.

I can add that to my reasons for staying alive.


Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

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