"Everybody who's currently intestate, MAKE SOME NOIIIIIISE!"
February 26, 2013 8:34 AM   Subscribe

I want to host a "will party", which will feature yummy snacks, refreshing drinks... and access to all of the resources needed for end-of-life planning. Is this doable? HOW? Intestate-rrific details inside...

A number of my family members and friends have been thinking about Their Inevitable Demise lately (because they've recently had babies, or are getting older, or are of a morbidly contemplative bent). Many have expressed a desire to get their shit together re: having a will/living will/advance directive/etc. I share this desire. However, none of us have taken any steps towards this goal.

While mulling this, I got an idea: why not throw a Will Party? I could invite everyone over - as WELL as inviting a (paid-by-the-hour, of course) paralegal or lawyer, and possibly a notary. I could purchase a copy of one of the popular "make yer own will at home!" programs. Everyone could draft up their will on the PC, have it reviewed by a legal professional, THEN have it notarized! Then we could all do shots! Woo, party!

Reasons Why This Might Work: most people I know have very, very, VERY simple estate-planning needs. No one is wealthy. No one owns much beyond a home/car/401(k). No one comes from a wealthy background. No one has any sort of all-consuming family drama. No one has any long-term illness. No one is oe'er-dramatic about death.

Reasons Why This Might NOT Work, and How to Overcome Them: that's what I need you to tell ME! What am I overlooking? Why might this be an awful idea? What other sort of resources would be available? If my plan is flawed, what sort of changes and/or advance planning MIGHT make it feasible? Thanks, Hive!
posted by julthumbscrew to Law & Government (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
personally I think something like this would be private, so I wouldn't want to go to a party for it.
posted by sweetkid at 8:41 AM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


No reputable lawyer is going to go anywhere near this, and a paralegal is not a "legal professional" who can give legal advice. If there is ever an issue with any of these wills, just imagine the great testimony: "Yeah, Dad said he prepared and signed this with a bunch of his friends at Jul's house. They were all making wills together. They called it a 'will party' and then did shots. That probably explains the stains that smell like Jagermeister."

Most estate planning lawyers will put together a package of a will, durable power of attorney, living will, and other such documents for a reasonable flat fee. You and your friends should do that instead of this very bad idea.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:42 AM on February 26, 2013

Generally speaking if wills are straightforward a lawyer will give you some paperwork to fill out about what your goals are and then that goes away and comes back as a legal document that you review and sign. So I think you either have to go one of two ways here.

1. Informal planning party where everyone pays attention to the "getting started" aspect of the entire thing and fills out forms (power of attorney stuff, health care proxy stuff, general ideas about where the money/assets are and where it should go) and considers options and then there's a meeting with a lawyer later to finalize the deal. This could also include stuff like "What do you want to happen to your email/pets/fancy grandfather clock" stuff that people often have a hard time thinking about. This would not get a completed will but would have people thinking about the important things to think about and you could include something that would nudge them in the direction of finalizing stuff.

2. DIY aspect getting wills alltheway done which would not really involve a lawyer much at all

This stuff varies significantly by state but a quick look at Nolo should give you an idea of what the rules are for yours. I don't know about your people, but my people are super private verging on squirrely about some of this stuff and would absolutely not want to do anything in public that concerned money. That said stuff like power of attorney and health care/advanced directive stuff is sometimes easier and also quite important. You may be able to split the difference and wind up with something useful.
posted by jessamyn at 8:48 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

This sounds like an episode of some sit com. While your friends might not have much in the way of assets, they might have specific details that they don't want spread around--like care of minor children ("What do you mean you're naming your crazy sister guardian?! I wanna be guardian!")
If you want to have a party, just have a party, no theme required.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:51 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Take a look at lawyers who participate in group classes for expectant parents. I ran into several of these in the run up to the birth of my first child. They often have packages and have streamlined the process pretty well. They usually offered a small discount because of the "group" nature of the event, so I bet you could negotiate that, too. That way you wouldn't have to be the one assessing which forms to provide, etc.

A big part of making it successful for real will be let people know the major questions/decisions they'll be asked to make and to get them to think about them beforehand so they can formalize those with the lawyer without a lot of reflection or public discussion at the party itself (things like "Who should get what portion of my estate if my spouse, issue, and other relatives are all dead?" and "Who would make the best guardians for our kids?")

On preview, I understand why Tanizaki might need to be a killjoy on this, but the likelihood of an heir contesting based on this seems small and avoids the reality that wills are contested every second for more random issues than this (e.g., the heirs simply don't like the choice of executor). And wills are signed in many other, dodgier situations. If it's a huge concern, for the participants or the lawyer, invite the lawyer for an hour or two of group education and one-on-one Q&A on site, followed by a BBQ after s/he leaves. Then people can follow through later.

I don't think it's an awful idea at all. If anything, people will be slightly better educated and the process will be slightly demystified.
posted by Yoshimi Battles at 8:53 AM on February 26, 2013

Response by poster: Uh... I was ENTIRELY kidding about the shots thing, by the by (given that the attendees are all new parents and/or of AARP age). And everyone is pretty damned open about their lives. I really like the "advance prep work" party idea, though!... that kind of bridges the gap a bit (in that we can all get the ball rolling on our planning, BUT save the more private stuff for an attorney, PLUS avoid any impropriety).

I also wasn't imagining a giant free-for-all ("Okay, now everyone name their guardian! 1, 2, 3... GO!"), but rather individual families each getting a half-hour or hour-long period of private time with the attorney in question. Attorneys ARE hourly professionals, after all (private offices 'n framed diplomas and all). I can kinda see where they'd find the idea of doing group work, well... slightly weird. But I've worked for a big firm for a decade, and I can ALSO kinda see "well, hell, what's the difference between billing $250 an hour at work and being paid $250 an hour - in CASH - for working a party?..."
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:57 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

This party might not be for everyone, but I say hurrah for any attempt to help people get their shit together. I've helped a relative whose husband passed away without even the most basic will. And it really makes thing so much more complicated, even in a situation where everything seems like it should be straightforward, no one contesting etc.

I think Jessamyn's on the right track with #1. Do an internet search for "will intake form" or "will intake questionnaire". Lots of PDF versions come up from different lawyers. This is the type of document that a lawyer might typically have you fill out first (before going over the details with your, drafting something formal, and then finally having you sign everything). It'll give everyone a good idea of what information they need to collect, and what decision about incapacitation and end of life they need to make. The group party atmosphere might help everyone discuss some otherwise difficult subjects.

Suggested party snacks: Death by Chocolate theme.
posted by Kabanos at 9:04 AM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

It might be more helpful to have a basic info session/party than what you're planning. Wills, etc, are sort of intimidating and it would be helpful to have a concrete place to start and ask some basic questions before going to a lawyer and nailing out the details, which they could do privately. Maybe it's just because I'm a born New Englander, but the idea of sharing this kind of information with a large group of friends and family gives me the willies. Hell, I had a conversation with my parents last month about their retirement and estate-planning they've already set up, and I still don't know how much money either of them has saved up.
posted by colfax at 9:05 AM on February 26, 2013

It might be more helpful to have a basic info session/party than what you're planning.

I think this is a great idea. That way, nothing legal is actually happening but people can leave with the information they need to get things going for themselves.

You may think people are open, but it's amazing the private details that unfold when people are doing things like this.
posted by sweetkid at 9:10 AM on February 26, 2013

The lawyer may not be able to give advice to multiple family members, if one is a beneficiary or potential beneficiary of another's will (conflict of interest issues).
posted by melissasaurus at 9:29 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Attorneys ARE hourly professionals, after all (private offices 'n framed diplomas and all).

Not necessarily - my boss* charges for the entire service (preparation, review, execution) in one flat fee.

I agree with everyone that's suggesting a general info session.

*IANAL. MBINYL (my boss is not your lawyer). TINLA.
posted by Lucinda at 9:36 AM on February 26, 2013

This might also be a good time to put together medical directives, i.e. "Living wills." -- it can be a depressing topic, when you get into the details of the options out there, so throwing a party to lighten the mood could help. If the goal of the party is to kick people off on the process of making a will, sending them out the door with a packet of information about medical directives, so that they can kill two birds with one attorney visit.

You could perhaps hire a lawyer to do some informal speaking, answer questions, with the understanding, made explicit, that if people want to give details or get legal advice, they have to establish a legal relationship with the lawyer. I'm not sure what the lawyer's ethical boundaries will allow or prevent, but any estate lawyer should be prepared to advocate in favor of binding legal expressions of will by individuals, in general. The lawyer can teach the process, answer questions about how wills are executed, what happens when there is no will, what the state law requires (e.g. for married couples vs. singles &c.). Estate taxation, charitable donations from wills. Also stuff like where to keep a copy of your will, whom to notify about it, how to keep track of assets, how to keep track of heirs...
posted by Sunburnt at 9:38 AM on February 26, 2013

I am a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer. This is not legal advice. My practice does not involve estate planning.

One issue with having actual attorney-client stuff go on at the party is that either a) the attorney-client privilege is going to get waived because everything is being discussed in the open or b) the attorney(s) will have to discuss confidential matters one-on-one in a private room. Strictly speaking the privilege is the client's to waive, not the attorney's, but I imagine most attorneys are going to feel pretty uncomfortable with the idea, even if everybody at the party gave written, informed consent. So (b) is preferable in many ways, but it's slow and just as expensive as an office visit, which mostly defeats the purpose of a party.

I think you may be best off with an information and planning party, as others have mentioned. Maybe have a memento mori theme. Then, provide guests with "next steps" like contact information for local estate planning attorneys. Just getting people to think seriously about and openly discuss end of life planning issues is an important step. If you think a party is a way to get your friends to do that comfortably, then go for it.
posted by jedicus at 9:39 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also like the idea of having an info session. However, if the problem is actually following through, I have met with people in a group session to get their finalized documents (that have already been approved by both lawyer and client) signed and notarized. There shouldn't be any issues there about privilege, sharing sensitive information, etc. You could have an info session first, and then in a month or so have a signing followed by a party.
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:10 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not an estate lawyer, but I would bet that estate lawyers are particularly good at coping with conflict of interest problems -- it can't be unusual for families to show up together to talk about estate planning as a group. You'd need privacy for the family and the lawyer, of course, as you said. I also think that "the will was signed in a room with a bunch of witnesses who had all come there intending to fill out and sign wills" is not the worst fact pattern in the world.

Seems like the more important question isn't whether one of us would do it, but whether you can find an actual estate lawyer near you who can see a good way to make it work. Maybe ask/Google around for hip, family-friendly estate lawyers and give them a call?
posted by jhc at 10:24 AM on February 26, 2013

I sort of doubt that anyone who is concerned enough to want a will will be relaxed enough to sign off on a legally binding one at a party. I'd want to read it, consider it, make sure i knew what i was signing.

Have an info session, distribute materials, and then go party it up. People can follow up with the documents later.

(The party as you describe it in your update sounds more realistic, and also not like a party at all. Parties are supposed to be fun.)
posted by Kololo at 11:46 AM on February 26, 2013

Have an “Receive Information About Writing Wills” party. Don’t have a “Write Your Will” party.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:28 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I just want to say that I would totally attend this party if I felt like I was going to have a 30-minute info session, get some grub and some fact sheets, then the lawyer would leave and I would continue drinking to drown the sorrows of being a responsible adult. I would then pick up those fact sheets the next day, sigh, and start to walk through the next steps. Having a looming, pre-scheduled "Notary/Nosh party!" in a month would help encourage me to get moving on the next steps by a certain date.

So, I do think this is a good idea. However, I think it has to be done in two parts.
posted by samthemander at 12:33 PM on February 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'd agree with the people recommending that you hold an information session.

Personally, I would be skeptical of a lawyer who jumped at the chance to provide services at a group party. Other commenters have pointed out the very real ethical issues a lawyer could face if she or he offer services at this type of event. At a minimum, I would want the lawyer to proactively outline any potential conflicts that might appear as well as his/her approach to dealing with those conflicts. If the lawyer brushes ethical concerns aside, I would read that as a potential red flag that he or she will not provide the best legal services.

Not all lawyers are created equally and wills are important. Having a valid fill-in-the-blank form will is (maybe) better than being intestate, but neither is a substitute for having a will that completely addresses your unique needs and issues. I think the best outcome for the party is to prepare and empower your friends to figure out what their options and needs are.
posted by helloimjohnnycash at 2:41 PM on February 26, 2013

> What am I overlooking?

People might have more complex needs, or larger estates, or more family drama, or worse health than you know.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:52 PM on February 26, 2013

In addition to the above, no reputable lawyer is going to want to do an after-the-fact review of what someone patches together using a do-it-yourself kit.

What does sometimes work is an employer arranging for a lawyer to consult on-premises (but discreetly, in private) with employees who wish to participate, with the lawyer offering a bit of a break on the flat fee based on the volume, and maybe even the employer footing the bill for the first $_____.
posted by megatherium at 4:32 PM on February 26, 2013

Try the Get Your Shit Together website for an idea of what needs and can be done without a lawyer. I love this idea of an information party followed a month or two later by a notary party - my husband and I got our wills done last month and are sitting on getting them notarized properly because we are twits.

This could be a really great thing, but I would definitely not be comfortable talking to a lawyer at a party, but I would be comfortable listening to a lawyer's general advice and being able to ask questions in a group, then getting the lawyer's details (maybe a good package deal arrangement, so the lawyer picks up a bunch of potential informed clients, they get a decent discount) to follow up.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:23 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Type font for numbering on old post office boxes   |   Pipe dreamin' Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.