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Lessons From Literature: War and Peace and Outdated Wills

russian soldiers.jpgI can’t help myself, I see estate planning angles everywhere. Welcome to a new, recurrent, feature of this blog: Lessons from Literature. Whenever I read a good book with an estate planning angle, I’ll share it with you here.

Recently, as I listened to Tolstoy’s masterpiece, War and Peace, on the way to work, I was struck by the story of the dying Count Bezukhov. As the Count lingers, seriously ill from a series of strokes, in his palace, the family intrique starts. The Count’s illegitmate son, Pierre, comes to visit the dying man, at the urging of another noblewoman, Princess Drubetskyaya, (who is scheming on behalf of her own son, Boris). It turns out that the Count has made a new Will, leaving his entire fortune to Pierre, and has left a letter requesting that PIerre be made legitimate by the Czar. This Will and the letter is in a box underneath the dying man’s pillow.

The Counts’ daughters, however, believe that the fortune will go to them because Pierre is illegitimate, regardless of the Count’s new Will. Evil Prince Kuragin, however, informs them that the Count has written a letter to legitimize Pierre. He urges them to destroy this Will and this letter to secure their own fortunes (and his). The daughters decide to steal the new Will, rip up the letter that will make Pierre legitimate, and inherit the estate themselves.

In the end, there’s almost a wrestling match between the Princesses trying to destroy the new Will and the older, scheming Princess who intends to preserve it. It’s all done with the best of taste of course, but it’s still a cat fight. In the end, the Will is secured, the Count dies, and Pierre becomes the new Count Bezukhov, one the richest and most eligible bachelors in all of Russia.

Here’s the lesson: if you write a new Will, DESTROY THE OLD ONE. Don’t leave multiple versions of your Will laying around which may confuse your heirs, or worse, lead to a Will contest, or, perhaps, a wrestling match. Make sure to store your Will somewhere safe and make certain that your family will be able to find it when the time comes. Many of our clients store their Wills in a safe deposit box at the bank, but many others store them at home, in a fire-resistant safe. Wherever you store it, just make sure that it is in a safe place and that you do not keep your outdated documents there, too. Please feel free to ask us if you’re not sure what to keep and what to shred.