I recently read an article by John Schwartz about why it is important to write a will. The article rightfully advises that having a will may save your family time and money, and eliminate some of the stress around difficult decisions, like how to divide an estate, whether to set up trusts, who is the trustee and, if you have minor children, who will serve as guardian. Writing a will can also serve as good opportunity to talk through what is happening in your life more generally, and allow you to reflect on what your values are and how you would want to support them in death, but also, as you think them through and once they become clear, in life right now.pexels-photo-250609.jpeg
My husband and I revised our wills four years ago, on the eve of the birth of our fourth child. We had not revised our wills since immediately before the birth of our first child thirteen years earlier (having a baby seems to focus my mind on these things). It was astonishing to sit down and do a comprehensive review of everything a will takes into account. While it is a review of your assets and debts, it is also a review of where you are in your life. As we drafted our wills we tried to think 5, 10, 20 or 30 years ahead. I know you should, technically, revise your will every five years, but we were trying to write something that might last longer than that. It can be a sad exercise, imagining your young children without parents is pretty awful, but it also prompted a conversation about what really matters to us as parents. Who would care for our children in our absence, what type of support would be appropriate, how that would be managed and by whom, where we would like them to live and go to school. It was humbling to review the will we had written thirteen years earlier because so much in our lives had changed, and it served as a good reminder that we definitely do not know what the future will hold, either good or bad, but we can still try to chart a course using our shared values as a guide.
Thinking more about the topic I was reminded of Michael Gerber’s book The E Myth Revisited, which is a book about why most small businesses fail. Early on in the book he asks the reader to imagine she has died, and asks, “what would you want people to say about you at your funeral?” While this seems like a rather depressing question, it actually provides a lot of clarity for someone struggling to think about setting up a new venture. Of course there are lots of decisions to make about where to locate a business, who to hire, what to sell and for how much, but the larger question Gerber raises is who do you want to be in the world. When you first answer that question, you can then think about how your business reflects that idea. So whether you are setting up a bakery, hotel or raising money for a not for profit, what is the larger intention that is motivating you? Identifying that larger intention can then provide clarity and purpose to your decision making, whether it involves drafting a new will, starting a new business or just thinking ahead to the next phase of life.