My battle of the wills with my very own spouse, by DAVID AARONOVITCH

Our will – mine and my wife Sarah’s – is so old that it doesn’t even exist online, only as a fading document in a rarely opened drawer. 

And it is a thing of beautiful simplicity, which says that if I go first, she gets everything, if she goes first then it all comes to me, and if that balloon trip over Monument Valley goes horribly wrong, then it all gets divided equally between our three daughters. Aged 34, 31 and 27, they are all grown up now, so the stuff about who would be their guardians is obviously redundant.

So that’s it. Or rather, that was it. To be honest, I’d never given it a moment’s thought since we had it drawn up just before the turn of the millennium, but not long ago Sarah said we should update the will and I agreed, imagining we just needed to bring it into the 21st century, a bit like renewing a library card.

The family gathers for the reading of Harlan Thrombey’s will in the 2019 whodunit Knives Out

The family gathers for the reading of Harlan Thrombey’s will in the 2019 whodunit Knives Out

It transpired that Sarah had been giving it some consideration and wanted us to think about a new provision. What she wanted – if possible – was a stipulation that the surviving spouse would be obliged to pass on the whole estate to our children.

I was a little nonplussed. I certainly didn’t require such a provision, for two reasons.

First, I’d never once considered that I’d outlive my wife. And not just because she’s 63 and I’m 69, but because her robust good health is a wonder to family and friends, her father lived to the age of 95 and her mother is very much still alive at 97 (there’s something indestructible about the Welsh once they pass 70); whereas my dad only made it to 78, my mum to 82 and my grandparents did even worse.

Second, it never occurred to me that Sarah would do anything other than the right thing when it came to the children. A late-life razzle involving a Ferrari, a toyboy and an occasional jig on my grave would seem very out of character. She’d probably insist on living on beans on toast while babysitting the future great-grandchildren.

In fact she wasn’t guarding against what she might do in the widowed hereafter, but what I might do. After all, hadn’t my own father contrived to leave most of his estate to his girlfriend (with whom, it should be said, he lived for 25 years), bequeathing £25,000 to each of his children?

A complication here was that my mother was still alive, and they had never divorced and, looking back on it, I think his will may have been contestable. But contesting wills is not my family’s way.

Sarah had seen other cases of children losing their inheritance to new spouses and their family. My Canadian friend Jeff and his siblings found themselves effectively disinherited by their father’s late-life fling with a Miami widow, who had expensive tastes and a conscience-defying line in self-pity. 

David isn’t sure whether to feel flattered or worried about his wife’s change of heart

David isn’t sure whether to feel flattered or worried about his wife’s change of heart

Fran got the lot; they were left with the funeral expenses. Other people we knew had also had husbands who disengaged from the family and set up with new partners and new babies, and were worried about what would pass to the children.

Come on, I said to Sarah, this is me you’re talking about here, not Peter Stringfellow (the first example of a late-life Lothario that came to my mind). So, I was a little indignant. What kind of a man did she take me for?

I was becoming disturbed. Who else did she think I’d leave my worldly goods to? Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, in a fit of nostalgia for our lost dogs of yesteryear? Or, even needier with their big mournful eyes, the Liberal Democrats? Then I wondered whether I shouldn’t find it rather flattering. Was it possible that in her mind I had remarkably survived and in such a condition as to attract another spouse, herself so attractive I might go gaga over her?

What about a gold-digger like Fran, perhaps? An insinuating floozy with no money, a good lawyer and a brood of parasitic sprogs from previous marriages? It’s happened to worse men than me. But then, if we are imagining these unlikely futures, why not one in which this Other Woman turns out to be a much-married contessa whose last late husband left her a castle in Umbria? That’s happened to worse men than me, too.

Now Sarah tacked. It wasn’t what I’d do with the estate after my own sad departure, she elaborated, so much as what I might do with her half of it while I was still alive. I might eschew the baked beans and baby-dandling, flog the house (like most Londoners, that’s where all our wealth is) and set up in a Cannes hotel, going out each evening to the casino to smoke cigars and faites les jeux. (Actually, I have no idea what she imagined I might do in my dotage to dissipate our children’s inheritance, because she wouldn’t say.)

I was entirely relaxed about this at first. Partly, as I said, because it’s my intention to go first, not least because I don’t know where anything is in the house. But then I started doing a little research, which turned out to be a mistake. Sarah had opened up a Pandora’s box full of possibilities and, once your mind begins to work on a question like this, all kinds of things begin to occur to it.

In essence, I realised, what Sarah was contemplating was a kind of postmortem divorce, in which I get half and her ghost gets half – her half belonging immediately to the children. And there are ways of doing this legally, by becoming ‘tenants in common’ of our property rather than ‘joint tenants’.

So, the moment the will is effected I find that I’m sharing ownership of the house I live in with my three girls, who I love to bits and would trust with my life.

As law firm Barcan & Kirby’s website puts it, ominously: ‘However much we plan for the future, circumstances can change in ways we would never envision. Whoever inherits your house will also be handed the responsibilities, and the possible disputes, that come with it.’

Out of Pandora’s box floats the story of King Lear. You think you have three Cordelias and then – ancient and bereaved – discover they’re a couple of Gonerils and a Regan.

‘Yes, Dad,’ they say, ‘we know you love living here surrounded by the memories of your beloved late wife, but the place is too big and we have outgoings.’ They reason the need and discover that you need very little, but there’s a rather nice-looking retirement village near Nuneaton that Goneril found online in which the inhabitants all look very happy, at least in the artist’s impression.

At which point you have to tell yourself to get a grip. It probably won’t happen and, if it does, I trust my girls.

So, I’ll do whatever Sarah wants because, frankly, that’s a rule that has served us all well over the years.