Stieg Larsson, the author of the best-selling, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and the other two "Girl" books that form the Millennium trilogy, never lived to savor his sweet success. He died suddenly in 2004 at the age of 50 from a massive heart attack after walking up 7 flights of stairs when the elevator at his office stopped working. Stieg was a chain-smoker, a non-exerciser, a workaholic
, and a junk food junkie. Although he was the target of frequent death threats by right-wing extremist groups, his own health choices were what killed him in the end.
Brilliant though he was, Larsson left this world without a will. Since his untimely death, his father and brother have been locked in battle with his partner of over 30 years, Eva Gabrielsson, over the disposition of Larsson's now-considerable assets, estimated in the tens of millions of dollars. Under Swedish law, there's no provision for common-law marriage, so his father and brother got everything--the money, the rights to his books and future royalties, and even half the apartment that Larsson and Gabrielsson shared.
Fights like this are ugly. Although some sources indicate that Larsson viewed his 3-volume crime thriller as a sort of pension fund for himself and Gabrielsson, we'll never know Larsson's true preferences because he never put those preferences in writing. Gabrielsson is now telling her side of the story in a book of her own (which is what prompted this blog).
A majority of adults in the U.S. don't have a will--about 55% according to some surveys. Yes, a few of these might feel like the cartoon character who wakes up from a nightmare exclaiming to his wife, "OMG, I dreamt we didn't have time to spend our money, and the kids inherited it all." More likely, once you've written a will, you'll feel relieved that your family won't have a big snarling fight about your legacy. Modest though that legacy may be, I've known families who quarreled bitterly over who should get the rickety kitchen chairs. Moreover, a will tells the world whom you've picked to raise your minor children, and that's a relief.
The misfortunes of celebrities can provide a spur for the rest of us to do the right thing, as I wrote in my last blog about getting the shingles vaccination. So let me ask you: Do you have a will?
If not, and you decide to use your willpower to write a will this summer, your first small step could be to decide whether to engage a lawyer or use a do-it-yourself program like the ones available at www.suzeorman.com or www.nolo.com. You can revise your will every few years.
Even if your will isn't perfect, it will be done.