Jane Austen’s Will: It Used to Be So Easy

Many clients are shocked when they see the sheer volume of paper in a truly well-done estate plan.  A trust by itself can be hundreds of pages, not to mention the other 6 to 16 documents you may or may not have—depending on your family situation. You may find that the “simple” estate plan you thought you were getting has turned into something of a size that would rival War and Peace

It didn’t always used to be this way.  The last will and testament of the great Jane Austen, for example, was only one paragraph long:

I Jane Austen of the Parish of Chawton do by this my last will I testament give and bequeath to my dearest sister Cassandra Elizabeth everything of which I may die possessed, or which may be hereafter due to me, subject to the payment of my Funeral expences, & to a Legacy of £50. to my Brother Henry, & £50 to Mde de Bigeon – which I request may be paid as soon as convenient. And I appoint my said dear sister the executrix of this my last will & testament.

Jane Austen

April 27 1817

Although this simplicity may have worked in 1817 England, it isn’t practical in the here and now.  Things just aren’t that simple anymore.  First of all, although Austen appoints her sister Cassandra as the executrix of her will, the will itself neglects to specify what powers are included in that appointment, leaving Cassandra effectively unable to carry out Austen’s wishes.  Secondly, the will neglects to make alternative provisions—what if Cassandra had unexpectedly died before Jane? Also notably lacking (from our contemporary perspective) are any provisions for estate taxes. And finally, discerning readers may notice that the will does not include the signatures of any witnesses, something which is absolutely necessary in order to execute a valid will today. 

We all may long for simpler times, especially when it comes to something most people think will only benefit their heirs and not themselves; but many of the rules and regulations that are dismissively thought of as “hoops to jump through” are there for your best interest.  They exist to protect your heirs and your legacy from fraud, misuse, greed and neglect.  Far from being a chore, creating a thoughtful and legally valid will these days is actually an act of love… One might even say it’s a matter of sense and sensibility (with the exception of holographic wills, which are often created in emergency situations, are entirely hand written, and do not require the signatures of witnesses.)

If you have a question regarding Wills or Living Trusts in Sacramento California please contact us at 916-380-7105 or visit the Estate Planning section on our website. Call today and we will connect you with an experienced Sacramento Living Trust and Probate Lawyer. After you have spoken with one of our Sacramento Probate attorneys, we can schedule you a free face to face appointment to discuss your circumstances. If you have questions or are considering any aspect of estate planning, living trusts, wills, long term care, or probate,  we can help! Call us now at 916-380-7105. We look forward to hearing from you and assisting you with any and all estate planning needs.