How detailed can I get with my Will?
Updated: Jun 30, 2021
Clients ask all the time about what they can and cannot put in their Will. In other words, how detailed can they get? Are there limitations? The answer is that you can — and should — account for anything you want in your will. A Will is your chance to express your final wishes, and the amount of control you can have after your death is pretty powerful.
Even as an estate-planning attorney, I was reminded of this while watching the short series, This is a Robbery, on Netflix recently. The show was about the famed art heist from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston 31 years ago. Thirteen precious works of art were stolen on March 18, 1990, and have yet to be recovered. The Museum, named after an art collector who wanted a dedicated space for her personal collection, opened to the public in 1903. It was a fascinating show, but the most interesting thing to me was Mrs. Gardner’s infamous Will.
In her Will, she stated that if any part of the Museum was ever permanently changed, the entire art collection and Museum must be sold off completely and the funds donated to Harvard. Below is the very detailed excerpt from her Will:
“If at any time the Trustees above mentioned shall place for exhibition in the Museum established under this will any pictures or works of art other than such as I or the said Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the Fenway, Incorporated, own or have contracted for at my death, or if they shall at any time change the general disposition or arrangement of any articles which shall have been placed in the first, second and their stories of said Museum at my death, except in the kitchen and adjoining bedrooms on the first floor, then I give the said land, Museum, pictures, statuary, works of art and bric-a-brae, furniture, books and papers, and to procure the dissolution of the said Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the Fenway, Incorporated, if it has not already been dissolved, and convert its property into money, and to invest the proceeds of the same in income bearing securities or in land, and to employ the net income thereof and of the said sum of one million two hundred thousand dollars ($1,200,000) in the increase of the salaries of professors of said college, or in sustaining scholarships, but the income of no scholarship shall be less than one thousand and two hundred ($1,200) a year. The said President and Fellows of Harvard College shall have power to change investments from time to time; and in selling the pictures, statuary, works of art and bric-a-brae which have belonged to me or to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the Fenway, Incorporated, in order to invest the proceeds in income bearing securities or in land, I direct them to sell the same in Paris, France.”
Because Mrs. Gardner’s Will was so specific and stated unequivocally that nothing in her collection shall be moved, the 13 empty frames from the stolen paintings still hang in their original locations inside the Museum.
Talk about complete power over what happens to your belongings after you die!
The short series is fantastic, and the Will is definitely worth a read (I linked to it above). Mrs. Gardner goes into plenty more specifics with the rest of her Will, and
it should serve as a gentle reminder that anything is possible with a Will.
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Having a plan for the future is the most important gift you can give yourself and your family. Granted, none of us will ever know for sure what is around every corner in life. And just thinking about the what-ifs — what if I were to die or become incapacitated tomorrow; what if my child with special needs has no one to care for her; what if all my “stuff” isn’t passed onto the right people — can be overwhelming. But having a plan that accounts for your family’s unique circumstances, puts your affairs in order, has concrete solutions to your concerns, lays out your wishes and goals, and protects your family’s future provides peace of mind for the road ahead.
Caitlyn Ashley Law in Denton, Texas, will counsel you on which documents are best suited for your needs and ensure they are flexible enough to meet your changing needs for years to come.