If we aren’t meticulous in preparing a will we are in danger of leaving a very different outcome than we intended.
The reason we write a will
We work our entire lives to support ourselves and our families. Some of us acquire riches from the start and some of us spend a lifetime accumulating our assets, shekel by shekel.
But what we have in common is our desire to have something to leave behind. Whether it’s the wisdom and knowledge of a lifetime of Torah study or our physical assets, we leave our riches in the hopes that it will be of help to our loved ones. It is one of the rewards for a lifetime of hard work. This is the reason we write a will. And why it’s important to know what happens if you pass away without one.
How good intensions can go wrong
This is an unfortunate case of a woman who lived here in Israel. She had worked her entire life, (she passed away at the age of 100), acquiring and maintaining a home and assets to leave to her two children. She commissioned a lawyer to draft a will which, instead of bringing peace and closure, ultimately caused a dispute between the siblings. Unfortunately, they were not able to apply the terms of the will as it had been written.
The woman had requested that her daughter receive the primary house on the collective farm (moshav) where the woman lived until she passed away. The remaining assets in the estate – her share in the cooperative – were to be divided between her son and daughter. This form of division was not possible since the will contradicted the agreement with the cooperative that disallowed splitting the estate to more than one owner.
The siblings quarreled. The daughter wanted the will to be carried out as written and the son’s position was that he is the “surviving son” who had been living on the property for many years. He insisted that according to the rules of the cooperative, the entire estate belongs to him. Eventually they wound up suing each other.
The final decision
The judge who heard the case felt it was necessary to find a solution that most closely resembled the wishes of the deceased mother. His solution was that the son, who was living on the farm for close to 50 years, would retain the entire estate and would compensate the daughter with payments that approximated the value of the house and half of the remaining assets.
The brother was not happy with this decision and he appealed in the district court. The judges there decided not to intervene in the primary decision of the Family Court. They ruled that the instructions in the will were not applicable since they contravened the agreement with the cooperative. In the end the will could not be carried out and the siblings were both very unhappy. Not at all what their mother had intended.
Preparing a will carefully
It is especially important during such unsettling times not to delay the preparation of a will. Do your research and look for an ethical estate attorney who will walk you through the laws of inheritance. He or she should be asking you many questions regarding your individual situation. For example careful consideration must be taken if you have assets in both Israel and another country. You and your attorney should be discussing all the legal ramifications of your decisions and together construct a clear and unequivocal directive. Ultimately your goal is to write a will that can be honored according to your wishes, for the time when your voice cannot be heard.