Since my father died, I have tried to persuade Mother to make a Will. It has been a decade long guerrilla war fought on behalf of the old fashioned principles of Good Sense and Forward Planning. But I’ve not made any headway. My Wife calls this on-going contest the ‘War of the Wills’.
Mother is dug deep down into a foxhole and she greets any attempt to parlay about her last will and testament with outright hostility.
‘No. No. No,’ she says like Margaret Thatcher when she was asked to return the British EU Rebate. ‘I do not wish to make a will. Or talk about it.’
She has many arguments why. There’s no point because she has ‘nothing to leave’ is one. She thinks the process as ‘vulgar’ is another and if she’s pushed on the subject she complains that she hasn’t spent ninety years counting every bean and is damned if she’s going to start now. She adopts the tone of an offended Dowager Aunt.
I suspect the real reason she doesn’t want to make a will is not that discussing death is uncomfortable, but she doesn’t want to confront the choices which making a will forces on you. Who gets what? Who gets nothing?
Wills are not just about allocating assets; they’re about allocating affection. They force you to prioritise people. But on what basis? She realises writing a will is a risky business easily open to misinterpretation, which once dead can’t be corrected. Why should she take that risk at this stage of her life?
I do not want to force her to confront anything she does not want to. But everyone – including my accountant – tells me it is the responsible thing for her to do. And being responsible is the Boomer’s Burden. What they don’t know is that she is as stubborn as a silver back gorilla and, so far, the gorilla is winning the guerrilla war of the wills.
One day, I find her in her flat putting a white sticky label onto the frame of a painting.
In fact, everything in the flat has got a white sticky label on it: tables, sofas, vases, pictures even individual items of cutlery and the bathmats. The flat looks like an auction room in which every object has been labelled ‘Sold’.
‘What on earth are you doing?’
‘My will,’ says Mother, feverishly.
‘Putting stickers on things isn’t making a will.’
‘You asked me to make a will. I’m just doing it my own way.’
Looking around, i can see Mother has tagged every object with the name of one of our family. It’s so we can each see what she wants us to have when she dies. She’s been so thorough that even the family cat has a tea saucer with his name on it.
‘So he thinks of me every time he has a bowl of milk.’
‘When did you decide to do this?’
‘I listened to a phone-in on the law of ‘Bona Vacantia’. It is an old law that gives the Royal family the right to take control of your estate if you die without a will. It all goes to the Duchy of Cornwall. Or Lancaster. I can’t remember which.’
I don’t know if Bona Vacantia is exists or even applies anymore. But if an irrational fear of the Royal Family getting their hands on her cutlery means she will do her Will, then who am I to complain?
‘Would it help if I wrote all this down in a proper will?’
‘Yes. Yes. Whatever,’ she says still slapping stickers onto things.
The war of the wills is at an end. The gorilla has surrendered.