How many Wills will you have during your lifetime?
Well, according to one recent survey by USLegalWills.com, 63% of all Americans, adults 18 and up, have no will at all. And another 9% have a will, but it is out-of-date. And only half of those 65 and over have an up-to-date will in place.
But back to my original question: Probably 3 or 4. When my wife and I had our first child, we went to a lawyer friend to write our first will. We updated it a few years later when we had our second child. Recently, we consulted another lawyer friend and wrote our second will. Our children are on their own and we are at what is certainly a different stage of life. We also included Living Wills and medical directives, which is more common when one consults an attorney about a Will today then it was 25 years ago.
While that is where we are, I can share my parents’ experience for what might be coming. By their early 60s, they, too were on their second Will. Then, after several years of retirement in Florida, and with health and aging challenges, they consulted a Florida attorney to write a third will talking into account their evolving situation.
And what does my family’s Will history have to do with anything related to synagogue life?
Well, firstly to illustrate to you the number of wills people might have. And for those synagogues with Legacy Societies and active bequest programs, to emphasize the importance of being sure to be in a congregant’s last will.
According to actuarial tables, many congregants in their 50s and 60s who join the synagogue’s Legacy Society will live into their 80s, and some into their 90s. I often say that everyone should live and be well to 120 and beyond. But the same actuarial tables tell us that some people will also pass away.
Hopefully, as congregants age, they will remain engaged in synagogue activities throughout their life.
But what happens when they are no longer engaged in synagogue life? Friends move away, or pass away. Synagogue leadership changes. The people who asked them to name the synagogue in their will are no longer a part of synagogue leadership. There are new clergy – much younger. You go at the High Holy Days, and a few times for Shabbat when there is a Yahrzeit, but that is it. You recognize a few people with whom you exchange pleasantries, and the rabbi, cantor and a few others always say Shabbat Shalom. But that is the extent of the conversation and it doesn’t feel like the warm heymish place it once was.
This is a problem at so many levels.
Aging and medical challenges are now in the forefront of your life, and in conversations with your adult children. When you meet with your lawyer to redo your will and she asks you whether the charitable organizations you named in your last should be included in the next one, will the synagogue still be among them?
It shouldn’t just be about the money. Regardless of age, you want people to not only feel “warm and welcoming”, but that people at synagogue are interested in what is going on in their lives.
If this is the normative synagogue experience for everyone throughout their lives, being in the last Will won’t be a concern.