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Man in the Middle – War of the Wills

The Man in the Middle writes our new blog series. Musings from a middle-aged man living with his aged Mother and the Family.

Since my father died, I’ve been persuading Mother to make a will. It’s been a decade-long guerrilla war on behalf of the principle of Forward Planning. Wife calls it the ‘War of the Wills’.

So far, I’m losing. Mother is resolute.  No, No, No, she repeats, like Margaret Thatcher when asked to return the British EU Rebate. I do not wish to make a will.  She pretends there’s no point in one because she has little to leave. Sometimes, she rejects the process as vulgar.

‘I haven’t spent ninety years counting every bean I have. I’m damned if I‘m going to start now,’ she says, like a Dowager Princess.

I suspect the real reason is she doesn’t want to confront the finality of dying or the choices which making a will imposes. Wills are not just about allocating assets; they’re about allocating affection. Why would anyone want to risk that? Wills make history, be careful what you write.

She’s as stubborn as a silverback gorilla

As her son, I don’t want to force her to confront anything. But everyone – including my accountant – tells me it is the responsible thing for her to do. What they don’t know is that she will only make a will when she wants to. She is as stubborn as a silverback gorilla. And gorilla trumps guerrilla in the war of the wills.

One day, I enter her flat to find her in the sitting room putting a white sticky label onto the frame of a painting. I look around the sitting room and see that everything in the room has got a sticker on it:  tables, sofas, vases, pictures and even the carpets. It’s like there’s been a snowstorm inside the flat.

‘What are you doing?’

‘My will,’ says Mother, feverishly.

‘Putting stickers on things isn’t making a will.’

‘It’s my will, my way. As you like to tell me: don’t sweat the small stuff.’

Even our family cat has something

Gob-smacked, I realise Mother has tagged every object everywhere in the flat with the name of one of the family. Even our family cat has something – a tea saucer – with his name on it. The flat looks like an auction house in which every object has been sold.

‘When did you decide to do this?’

‘I listened to a phone-in on ‘Bona Vacantia’. It is an ancient law that gives the monarch the right to take control of your things if you die without a will. It all goes to the Duchy of Cornwall. Or Lancaster.’

I guess this isn’t true. But this is not the time to be pedantic or correct her misunderstanding. If it takes an irrational fear of Prince Charles or the Chancellor to get her to make a will, the end justifies the means.

‘We need to protect all this with a proper will.’

‘Yes, yes, yes. Whatever,’ she says still slapping stickers onto things.

The war of the wills is at an end. I didn’t win by persuasion. The gorilla decided to surrender.

© The Man in the Middle

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