The ethics of wills... what would you do?

Wednesday 4 August, 2021
by Cris Parker

You work in financial advice and have good a relationship with a number of your clients. You are Executor of the Will for one of your long-standing clients who passed away recently. She is a published author, but her Will states all drafts and unpublished manuscripts must be destroyed at the time of her death. 

Upon visiting the estate, you come across the manuscripts in her office and take some time to read them. The family have expressed they wish to hold on to them – if not for sentimental reasons then to potentially also publish them in memory of her.

Flicking through the manuscripts you appreciate how well written they are and think it would be such a shame for others not to read her work.

What would you do?

  • Take some time to consider these questions with your colleagues.
  • Who are the people that will be impacted by your decision?
  • Who will benefit most from your decision?
  • Would your decision apply in a similar situation and if not, why?


We challenge you to create a healthy discussion with your colleagues and post a comment below. You could even encourage them to consider taking The Banking and Finance Oath!

Please share your ethical dilemmas with us - we can post them anonymously. You can email your dilemmas to  dilemma@thebfo.org 


Editor's note: This article was originally published in December 2019. 

Comments

There are 5 comments for The ethics of wills... what would you do?.

Re: The ethics of wills... what would you do?

Monday 24 February, 2020
by Sarah
I would advise the family of the will and recommend they talk to a lawyer about the retention of the manuscripts urgently and advise them of any timeframes I may be bound by to act out the instructions
I would not divulge my personal opinion on the quality of content as that is subjective and the family are entitled to understand there rights and available channels clearly and without prejudice
I would respect the judicial system and make sure that all manuscripts were packaged and safe in my care as executor of the will until such time as I was confident on the families decisions on contesting of the will

Re: The ethics of wills... what would you do?

Tuesday 25 February, 2020
by Guillermo
I would follow the will and destroy them. I think the whole will system is based on the idea that I can entrust a final request and be confident it will be executed. If we start breaking that idea then what's the point of writing a will?
If the writer was good and successful, then he probably had a good understanding of which ones of their writings were good work and which ones were bad work and which ones were incomplete. He was the ultimate judge on how to present his work, not you, not a lawyer, not his family, himself. If you present incomplete work then you would be challenging his judgement and you may effectively tarnish his memory.
And remember HE was the writer, you may think some work is good, he probably thought it was not good enough... so how do you judge that? Who was the writer you or him? If you think you are in a such high level were you may judge and challenge his decision on what was good or bad, then why don't you go and write your own work instead of messing around with his.
You say family would like to honour the writer? You honour the writer by respecting his decision, not the other way around. That is not morally correct, is just greed and a disrespect to the artist.

Re: The ethics of wills... what would you do?

Thursday 5 August, 2021
by Jenn
@Guillermo, I appreciate your answer, the very request of destruction may well have been that the writer did not want the beneficiaries to profit from further publishing. However, please recheck on your pronouns, the writer was she not he.

Re: The ethics of wills... what would you do?

Thursday 5 August, 2021
by M
Speaking with the family is a good idea. Also it depends on when the Will was written and the frame of mind of the person writing the Will. Was there any mental health issues at the time or major family fights at the time that may have influenced the Will.
I have just had some experience being an executor of a Will and it is not only the items in the Will that are the problem. In my case it was not having instructions on how to undertake various items. The role of an executor is a difficult one that many people do not realise the complexities and the difficulties you face with lawyers and accountants etc. Some people in their later years also may not know the worth of the things they leave behind and who could benefit from them.

Re: The ethics of wills... what would you do?

Thursday 5 August, 2021
by Peter
I would consult the family about the deceased’s wishes, and say that it is your role as executor to give effect to them.
I would hold the destruction until there had been extensive consultation, and if requested to allow members of the family access to read the manuscripts. It may be that there is intellectual property or other information in them that the family have reasonable rights to.
After a suitable period of time, if the family have not come back with good grounds to preserve the manuscripts I would arrange for their destruction.
If they do have strong grounds to preserve some or all of the manuscripts, state that it is consistent with your duty to effect the deceased’s wishes but that they may wish to seek a court order to change the will, but they need to expedite that. If they don’t, advise that your duty is clear.

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