There's always been one group of people I never thought I'd feel sympathy for, but it's happened.
I've come to feel sorry for attorneys.I particularly feel sorry for estate planning attorneys. Those are the ones who make their livings drawing up wills. It must be hard going through life realizing your own customers dread talking to you.
I know this is true because I'm now finishing drawing up a complete will. It's taken me months to get it over with - and for one reason: I couldn't face calling my attorney back. There are some things you just don't want to talk about, such as what estate planning attorneys have to talk about all day long.
"I think we'd better call back our attorney on the will," I kept telling my wife.
"I'm sorry," she'd say. "I'm not in the mood to be depressed again."
At first, I thought it would be mostly technical. Estate-planning language, after all, is bloodless. Nothing is handed over, it's vested; children don't reach 21, they attain majority; when it comes to mutual property, husband and wife aren't even husband and wife - they're joint tenants. Anyway, my plan was to leave everything to my spouse and offspring, sign the last page, and be done in 15 minutes.
It wasn't that easy. First, we had to go through what all us will-writers dread the most: the scenarios. Every lawyer has a different scenario style. Mine was into crashes.
"All right," he would say. "You go down in the big crash . . . ." I wasn't sure whether he was talking about car, plane or stock, but it was still depressing.
It took me weeks to wrestle through the basics, which is to say what to do with my finances, automobile, furniture and personal effects. And residue. Don't ask me what that is, but according to my will, someone lucky is going to get my residue. Anyway, I wrestled it all through. I thought that would end it.
It had only begun. Soon, we were on to scenario No. 2.
"Now," the attorney said, getting excited, "both you and your wife go down in the big crash." Actually, this time, he embellished it. I'd just mentioned that I'd been to Florida. He managed to work that in: "Both you and your wife go down in the big crash . . . on your way to Florida."
Like I said, he's a really nice guy, but he's no different from anyone else. He gets into his work. When he lays out a scenario, he goes all the way. So, after I wrestled through the big crash in Florida, he got worked up into a real estate-planning roll.
"Now," he said, "the two of you go down in the big crash in Florida. You die. Your wife lingers."
Just what I wanted to spend my afternoon thinking about. Finally, I hashed that one out, too, but I still wasn't off the hook.
"Let's talk about guardianship," he said. I told him I'd call him back.
It's one thing to decide who you want to leave your Seiko Chronograph to, but kids are trickier. People will do anything to avoid this kind of decision.
I ended up having dinner with a couple who was just grappling with that. It had brought them to the old do-we-or-don't-we-fly-together-on-the-same-plane decision. The husband told me they'd decided to fly separately - a terrible inconvenience, but at least, if the big crash on the way to Florida happened, one parent would still be around.
I asked the husband which one takes the kids when they fly separately.
"Oh," he said, "if our children are coming, we all fly together."
"Because that way we'll all go down and we won't have to worry about who gets them."
My guess is they came to that decision so they wouldn't have to call back their estate-planning attorney and talk about their will.
Which is what I should be doing this afternoon. But I can't. I've got to rearrange my sock drawer. But I promise I'll get right to it - first thing next fall.