What Happens When a Will is Unsigned? (It’s Not Fun)

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Social Q’s

My Uncle Eddy died unexpectedly. He never married and had no children, but he was very close to my brother and his wife. Eddy spent every occasion with them. He wrote a will leaving them everything but never signed it. Under state law, our lawyer says, Eddy’s property will be split among his three siblings, none of whom spoke to him. Eddy was tough. My brother and his wife were the only ones who could take his tirades. But they loved him. One of Eddy’s siblings will honor the unsigned will; the others want their money. Help our divided family!


It would probably be easier to raise Uncle Eddy from the dead than to sow peace among your brother and Eddy’s legal-eagle siblings right now. This is why wills feature so prominently in great novels (“Middlemarch,” “Sense and Sensibility,” anything by Dickens): Surprising inheritance and disinheritance drag our most cunning greed and virtuous sacrifice right to the surface.

Get a second legal opinion. (But let’s assume your lawyer is correct.) Remind your brother and sister-in-law that they included Eddy in their lives because they loved him, not because they expected anything from him. They can take comfort in his wanting to leave them his estate. But no cajoling or shaming of uncles and aunts (with the law on their side) is apt to change the outcome.

So, work on your brother: One-third of the estate, from the compliant sibling, is better than nothing — not that Thanksgiving is going to be a fun fest this year. And that’s the cautionary tale for the rest of us: Let’s get our wills written, signed and notarized, shall we? It’s easy; it saves our survivors hassle; and it stops our dough-re-mi from going to people who won’t even speak to us.

Chess and Bathroom Manners

A close friend came to my apartment for a game of chess. I got a beautiful new board and was excited to inaugurate it. Midway through the game, he excused himself to the bathroom. I heard the toilet flush, but nothing from the faucet. He hadn’t washed his hands. (I’d noted this before.) And now he was putting his grimy paws all over my board! After he left, I polished his pieces with Clorox wipes. We play regularly, but I’d rather he not touch anything anymore. May I confront him?


Q.E.D.: Ignorance is, indeed, bliss. But now that you’ve been expelled from the Garden, like Adam and Eve before you, the question is: What to make of your knowledge? Surely, you don’t think your friend’s nasty habit is the filthiest one you encounter on any given day. (Hello, subway poles!) Try to keep quiet about other people’s hygiene. We are all filthy beasts.

Still, if silence will inhibit chess dates, try: “Let’s respect the new board and wash our hands before we play.” He may think you’re weird, but as long as you both do it, you save him the indignity of knowing that you’ve been monitoring his bathroom habits. You can even toss in a humorous: “Hands?” when he returns from a midgame break. (And keep your fingers out of your mouth when he’s around, O.K.?)

Should I Share a Traumatic Story?

When I was 21, I was raped. I resolved the resulting PTSD with six years of hard work in therapy, and I have been emotionally healthy for seven years. I am now dating someone new, and I’m on the fence about telling him. Getting well was a big achievement. But rape is an awkward subject, and I’m not sure that dragging up a long-resolved trauma is necessary. Thoughts?


You don’t owe your boyfriend — or anyone — this story. It is yours to share only if you feel comfortable. But each of us has a handful of experiences, both positive and brutally negative, that create us. It is unfathomable to me that being the victim of a violent crime and logging six hard years to make yourself well again is not an essential story about you to those you most trust. But again, my fathoming is irrelevant. Your vote and your comfort are the only ones that count. (P.S.: huge respect for your hard work and resilience.)

Scheduling Issues

It annoys me when friends say, “Let’s get together! Throw out some dates that work for you” — particularly after they have recently canceled plans. My husband travels for work, and we have two busy, young children. Finding free dates is a bigger task than most people assume. Is there a polite way to say, “If you want to get together so bad, you do the scheduling”?


I get your righteous fury, which seems to be verging on Code Red. But given your hectic life, people would have to propose 37 dates before they hit on one that works for you. Here’s a compromise: With friends you care about (and who respect your time), respond with three possible dates. With luck, one will work. With all others, say: “Absolutely!” And put the request for dates out of your mind for the next 15 years.