The party was in full swing at Tony and Sarah Beth Seguin's Woodbury home on a recent Thursday night. As children ran about or created works of art at the dining room table, their parents stood around the kitchen island, with their wills in hand. You read that right. Wills, not wine.
Welcome to a will-signing party, more useful than a Tupperware party and more productive than a book club.
Massachusetts-based lawyer James Haroutunian started Willparties.com last year.
Every time the father of two would get together with other parents of young kids, they'd bring up their lack of a will and their need to give him a call. "I'm the death of the party," he jokes.
But the calls would never come, and he'd hear the same excuses over and over: No time. But his wife and her friends had time for other home-based sales parties for wine, jewelry and food. So the will party idea was born.
He has conducted 15 to 20 of the events, which work best for families who have simple situations, he says.
Haroutunian will suggest to families who have more complex scenarios to set up an appointment in his office. He hopes to have a network of lawyers partying in all 50 states.
Marjorie Holsten, a Maple Grove real estate and estate planning lawyer, has been doing her own will parties for a decade. Over the years, the mother of two heard the same complaint over and over: Wills are too expensive.
But with her group will-signings, the price is $75 per person, $150 per couple.
Here's how she does it: An organized pal gets a group of families together and sets up two meetings. The first 90-minute session addresses "if you die, what do you want to do with your stuff and what do you want for your kids," Holsten said. She also passes out a questionnaire designed to gather the information she needs about guardians and assets for the wills. Then she answers the group's questions.
Later, couples e-mail additional questions, and finally, their wishes, to Holsten. She drafts the wills and sends back a draft. The clients can e-mail changes to Holsten.
Then, party No. 2. That's when eight couples gathered again in the Seguins' home. Directing traffic in the center of it all was Holsten, who set up shop on the kitchen island with a pile of papers and a cup full of pens.
Sarah Beth learned about Holsten through a friend of a friend. Writing a will had been on the family's to-do list since her 9-month-old daughter, Avery, was born.
And because she was with friends, in her own living room, the experience was much less painful than she imagined, she said between acting as a witness. Her bonus for wrangling the group -- a free will for herself and her husband.
When asked what he thought about the idea, Robert McLeod, an estate planning attorney with Lindquist and Vennum, said that "the stuffed-shirt response would be, 'That's not the way we handle our attorney-client relationships.'" But he believes the concept creatively addresses a key problem that all estate planning attorneys face -- getting clients to start a will and to finish it.
His only concern is that, in front of friends and neighbors, families might not reveal family secrets that should be addressed. It's tough enough to discuss them in a lawyer's office. Even Holsten acknowledges that confidential information could come out in these meetings, and that couples might regret it later. But she figures "a lot of us are in the very same boat," and that good things about the group nature outweigh the bad.
"Getting out of the attorney's office made it an experience that was much more interactive," said Staven Bruce, who attended the event with his wife, Karen, and their three kids. "You do get the discount, but you also get [the group's] perspective," he said. Plus, he figures, if you have to talk death, you might as well do it with friends: "It adds a certain amount of levity."
I've been surprised by the number of readers and many friends and colleagues who have admitted to me that they, too, don't have a will. That, plus statistics showing that the majority of U.S. families lack updated documents outlining their final wishes, and I can't help but think that the old way of will-making just isn't working for many of us.
So let's get this party started.
Kara McGuire writes about money. Send comments and ideas to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 612-673-7293.