My “Styles” Audition for the New York Times

Having already taken charge of the op-ed page of the Times, I needed a new challenge. What better for a cutting edge guy like me than the Style Section?  Do I not know that the Louis Vuitton store is on 57th Street? Come on.

And so, I tackle the hard questions posed to  Philip Galanes in today’s paper, since he obviously isn’t really cut out for this style stuff.

My husband and I are preparing our wills. We have two adult children: a daughter who is more successful than we are, and a son, who has been down on his luck for years. He also has three young children to educate. Everyone, including our lawyer and close friends, tells us that we should leave our money to them in equal shares to avoid hurt feelings. But that doesn’t seem right. Our son needs the money. Still, we don’t want to hurt our daughter. What would you do?

Anonymous, Chicago

Stop listening to everyone. It’s your money, and they’re your children. Who better to walk this perilous tightrope than you, especially if we set up cushiony nets beneath you (unlike Burt Lancaster in “Trapeze”)?

Burt Lancaster in “Trapeze”?  Seriously. When I was a kid, that movie was so old it was on the  4 O’Clock Movie five days a week.  Come on, Philip, strap on those sock garters and spats and get out once in a while. But I digress.

So is your irony detector going crazy like mine? The anon questioner, who hasn’t bothered to make a will until her children were old and half-losers, has already raised their issue with the people who know them, know their financial sitch, maybe even knows their kids, and so they’ve decided to ignore people with knowledge in favor of a guy who writes for a newspaper and doesn’t know them from Adam. Minus 1.

And what does the newspaper guy say?  Stop listening to everyone. Oh, the irony alarm is deafening. Don’t listen to them. Listen to me? Anybody home?

Naturally, what caught my eye about this question was that it stands at the crossroads of law and feelings. So the old folks who never thought to make a will before are now struggling with how to take care of their loser son. Does it dawn on them, or Philip, that leaving him more than a half share might not be a helpful way to deal with it at all. How about a good smack in the face, a la Moonstruck?  Remember the old give a man a fish allegory? 

So they feel guilty about having failed their baby boy. With good reason, apparently, and so their parting message to their daughter, who worked hard and accomplished something with her life, is we don’t love you as much as your brother.

Bequests to children aren’t rational, even if the daughter says she gets the reason. It’s a matter of legacy.  If you hate one of your kids and want to get in the final smack, screw him in the will. Just remember that there is no going back afterward, so you better really, really hate the kid because the kid is for sure going to hate you.

The point of advice isn’t to confirm what the person asking wants to hear anyway. It’s to help them despite whatever really dumb thing they want to do.  When it comes to something like a will, there are a wealth of concerns that would never occur to a Style guy because he’s never sat in a room with the children of dead parents, trying to figure out why they did what they did. Experience suggests that things nobody wants to believe will happen will happen. They get greedy and needy. They get angry. They get spiteful and hateful.  They shouldn’t, and the testator didn’t think they would. But they do.

How do we know such things? Because this isn’t the first person who ever made a will. Now the big question: Is she leaving behind any Louis Vuitton bags?

So when should I move my stuff into Philip’s old desk?

8 comments on “My “Styles” Audition for the New York Times

  1. steve magas

    Every time you watch a Nicholas Cage movie his bankruptcy lawyer makes another 25 cents…

  2. Pete

    Lame advice from the NY Times, indeed. However, I suggest that there is more than one way to successfully walk the tightrope between fairness and financial needs. I like the idea of setting up educational trusts for every grand child. Any remaining wealth could then be equally divided between the son and daughter.

  3. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    “If you hate one of your kids and want to get in the final smack, screw him in the will.” This is a serious question: Do many parents end up actually hating their own kids at the end of life? Disappointed – yes. Wistful – yes. Coulda, shoulda, woulda – yes. But hating on your own spawn? Holy crap. Seems to be fundamentally against G-d’s law, doesn’t it? . . .

    Not to say that the fruit of one’s loins are special snowflakes. I tend to look at my fruit as irregular lumps of ice, more commonly referred to as hailstones . . . But still, I can’t see myself as ever doing anything but love them, and certainly never hate them . . .

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