Don't Wait Like Valerie Harper to Write Your Will

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. on April 19, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you haven't drafted a will yet, what are you waiting for? Actress Valerie Harper answered that question earlier this week, and her experience offers some lessons for us all.

Harper, 74, was diagnosed with inoperable cancer last March. At the time of her diagnosis, Harper's doctors said that she may only have a few months to live.

Surprisingly, Harper told radio host Howard Stern that it wasn't until after her cancer diagnosis that she finally decided to put together a will, ABC News reports. Why did she wait so long?

Why Harper Waited

It's understandable that if you're in good health, it may seem like there's no reason to write a will. For Harper, she apparently only "had a lightweight something" in place that detailed her estate distribution after death, but not a formal will.

Harper, however, shared another reason for not drafting a formal will: She's superstitious and was afraid that creating a will would jinx her life with her husband Tony Cacciotti.

So what changed her mind, aside from her cancer diagnosis? Basically, her children. Harper said she wants to make sure her kids were taken care of after she passes away.

Why You Shouldn't Wait

As Harper's story shows, life is full of unexpected events and it's better to convey your wishes for after your death in a will as soon as you can.

A will identifies who inherits your property after you die. Every state has requirements for how to make a valid will, so it's advantageous to do so when you're mentally and physically capable.

Wills can also be changed, so what you put on paper today can be updated at your discretion. For example, if you get divorce or have more children, you can update your will at a later time to reflect those changes.

One word of caution, however. Harper told Howard Stern she wants to include funeral plans in her will. Although there's no law against doing that, it's generally not recommended. This is because your body isn't considered "property" for estate planning purposes, so your estate might not be able to carry out your exact plan.

In addition, wills usually aren't looked at until after the funeral, so your burial plans may not be known at the right time. The best idea is to tell your loved ones about your burial preferences or make a separate "final arrangements" document.

If you need more help in writing a will, consult an experienced estate planning attorney in your area or check out FindLaw's Guide to Writing a Will for more guidance.

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