Without the will

May 28th, 2008 | By | Category: Ministry

There was an “understanding” between them.

His farm was on good Co Down land, rolling drumlin countryside. A neat dwelling house, regularly painted in a sober pale grey; solid and as reliable as its owner.

Her house was a few miles away. A white slate roofed cottage at the end of a bumpy lane; at “the top o’ the loanen”, as it was described in the mixture of Ulster Scots and Hiberno-English that was spoken in the district.

They would be married one day.

Her mother was long lived and anxious not to leave the cottage in her advancing years (and equally anxious that no newcomer should invade her territory), and there would have been no question of the daughter leaving her mother alone.

In a tale like something out of William Trevor, the “understanding” continued.

For thirty-seven years, he would call at the house on a Sunday and during the week would run “messages” for his affianced and her mother.

He was a meticulous man. Everything had to be done in an orderly way. He would advise others on the importance of keeping their affairs in order. “Make a will”, he would say, “I have seen too many rows caused by people who made no will”.

A healthy man all his days, he suddenly died after a short illness.

There was embarrassment about the funeral. Gathering in the house, the object of his understanding sat at the fireside, the seat of the widow, but people were uncertain what to say to her. Reaching the church, the family filed into the front pews, the lady slipped into a pew a few rows back, not regarding herself as “family”.

A few days later, details of the will emerged, there wasn’t one. The entire community was convinced that there must be a will that rewarded thirty-seven years of understanding with at least the dwelling house, if not the whole farm. Solicitors were contacted, no will had been made with any of them. The man who had given so much advice had made no arrangements whatsoever; the farm went to his next of kin, his intended received nothing.

The story came to mind yesterday as a lady, still in her full health but of advancing years, told me the hymns that were to be sung at her funeral.

The old Prayer Book had a note at the end of the prayers for use at the Visitation of the Sick,

If the sick person hath not before disposed of his goods, let him be admonished to make his Will. But men should often be put in remembrance to settle their temporal affairs whilst they are in health.

A more sensible piece of advice would be hard to imagine.

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  1. The term “understanding” always fascinates me. I have known several couples with an “understanding” and unfortunately they never seemed to develop further.

    We all need to think about putting affairs in order, it sure saves time and problems later on.

  2. @ Grannymar:

    One of the things I had to get used to in the country was the tendency for many things to be unspoken, perhaps it was a way in which people in a small community got along together – as long as nothing was definitely said, no-one could take offence.

    Reading the “understandings” that existed, not just between couples, but sometimes in families and sometimes in the church, was not easy. The problem with “understandings” is that they could leave people completely adrift (especially when coming into contact with hard realities like inheritance laws).

  3. Ian as a two-time beneficiary I can attest that without a will, those most deserving will miss out. Without my Dad’s will the four of us would probably be at loggerheads, who knows. Money and possessions do strange things to the closest of family. Mind you a 30 odd year understanding is pushing the boundaries a bit!

    On another note, it’s a bit like organ donation . . .unless we talk to those close about what we want when the time comes to be in a position to donate an organ, family often say ‘no’ because they had an ‘understanding’ that it was not the person’s will to donate. It costs us thousands of lives a year that could be saved by a cornea or a kidney.

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