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October 24, 1990

The Psychiatry of Writing a Will

Author Affiliations

Culver City, Calif

Culver City, Calif


by Nathan Roth (American Series in Behavioral Science and Law, R. Slovenko, ed), 70 pp, $24.75, ISBN 0-39805616-1, Springfield, Ill, Charles C Thomas, 1989.

JAMA. 1990;264(16):2145. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03450160115043

The very title of this book creates a paradox. How can a medical discipline, psychiatry, be meaningful in writing a will? Read on. The author, a prominent psychiatrist, weaves a mosaic around the fear of death, loneliness, and the role of money, all of which play a crucial role. This book about the psychological meaning of writing a will should find little competition in the card catalogue.

The first person who scholars assume wrote a will was the biblical Jacob, father of Joseph. On the other hand, many prominent persons, such as Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Grant, Garfield, Jefferson, and, more recently, Picasso, never wrote wills. When Picasso died at the age of 91, he died without leaving instructions on how to distribute his estate of $265 million. What a legal nightmare, which must have delighted probate attorneys!

The will is a document in which we distribute significant symbols. Picasso may