A locket. A stamp collection. The lake house. Our sister. Our best friend. Our alma mater. The things we keep. The people and entities we associate with are a reflection of self. The legal document that addresses these is our last will and testament. Yet all too often, the will is viewed by a testator as a dreary, dense, mechanical document that reflects little of his or her personality, hopes, and fears. This Article seeks to reconceptualize this most personal of legal documents as a personal narrative. To situate this assertion, the author considers the intersection of narrative and law. The Article then explores the origin of the will as a spoken document, termed the “vessel of truth” in Ancient Rome. Examples and illustrations are drawn from probated wills, both infamous (such as the wills of Alfred Nobel, Doris Duke, Bing Crosby, and Jerry Garcia) and ordinary. In an area of law that centers on the intent of the testator, the last will and testament should be a reflection of self. The examples reported here form the basis for recommendations to promote clients’ goals, enrich the effectiveness of estate planning documents, and better serve the purposes of estate planning representation.
Karen J. Sneddon, The Will as Personal Narrative, 20 Elder L.J. 355 (2013).