A few days after a police helicopter crashed into a pub in Glasgow, killing eight people, I walked into a solicitor’s office in Forest Hill to sign my Will. The events weren’t connected — I had already booked the appointment several weeks before the crash, and it didn’t make me believe a sudden, accidental death was any more likely.
I’d found the solicitor through a pro bono scheme, booking an appointment with the first one on the list, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at their offices. Actually, that’s not quite true — when I arrived, I quickly realised I did have a set of expectations, based on films probably, and that this office wasn’t matching up to them.
There was no large, airy office on the 28th floor. No men in expensive suits with strong handshakes. I exaggerate slightly, but what I found made it clear to me that I did have a picture in my head before I arrived.
It was a dingy office on the ground floor, with a window onto the busy high street, frosted to give some discretion. Buses rattled past outside. The office was poorly outfitted and badly designed — the staff kept criss-crossing the room in front of me, edging past archive boxes heaped on the floor that were overspilling with files. Confidential files? I was taken through to a smaller room to wait for the solicitor.
This room was an awkward size — not small enough to be intimate, nor big enough to be grand. A computer sat on the round table, its screen saver on, and the words l-i-v-i-n-g-s-t-o-n-e—a-n-d—c-o scrolled past, flickering. A large pot plant sagged in one corner of the room.
A noise at the door — the solicitor stepped in with surprise and then recognition on her face.
‘Sorry to keep you waiting, Ms Leach. I thought we hadn’t… I’d forgotten I needed to bring the Will down for you to sign. One moment, please.’
She retreated, leaving me to scrutinise my thoughts. Rationally, I don’t think a solicitor need be any better at their craft if they’re in a fancy office. Fancy offices have so much to do with luck, social background, bluff and arrogance. And I would have felt uncomfortable and scruffy on the 28th floor. But perhaps a part of me wanted to feel uncomfortable in that way, would have felt more at ease. I might have been reassured if she had remembered our previous meeting before walking in the door, or if she had made a better job of hiding her forgetfulness.
The solicitor stepped back in and took a seat, shuffling through some papers. No niceties — straight to business. Had anything changed since our last meeting? Could I check all the names were spelt correctly? Here are some instructions for what to do if any details need changing, and so on.
She handed me the document and I nearly laughed out loud. It was printed on stiff, beige paper, just a few pages deep, and — weirdly — bound with a green, shiny ribbon. I’d never seen anything like it.
I turned the first page and felt a flutter of unease upon reading the words:
This is the last will and testament of EMMA LOUISE LEACH.
There are moments like this that make you realise you haven’t properly processed something. I’d been going through the motions — emailing the solicitor, booking an appointment, giving her my details. I’d stumbled a bit at her use of the word “predecease”, and had a brief cry when deciding who to leave my possessions to. But something about seeing these words on the page really confronted me with the grim purpose of this document.
Again, it’s films I draw on here. Normally you don’t see people drafting or amending their Will in films. You usually only see the document itself, with that famous first line, when it’s surrounded by weeping relatives. Or by angry relatives, shocked and disbelieving, as the executor slides the page across the table to show them they’ve been written out of an inheritance. In other words, you normally only see the Will after the person who’s written it is dead. Something tells me it would have been less weird had those first words been less iconic, less part of pop culture and just left to be the bland legalese they are.
A woman from the office was brought in to witness my signature and to photocopy my records. It all happened very quickly. For the second time in my life, I botched my signature (the first time, aged 17, was when I’d just passed my driving test,) but it wasn’t bad enough to spoil the document.
The solicitor was folding my photocopied version for me to take away, sealing the job. I felt a little tension thrum in the room, which must be common when people are suddenly faced with their own mortality. She must be used to this, I thought, an everyday occurrence.
The solicitor was pushing the photocopy into an envelope, her eyes on her hands. ‘That thing in Glasgow just makes you think…’
‘Oh yes. Terrible,’ I said.
‘…You never know when your time will come.’ She fumbled, tearing the envelope slightly at one corner. She tutted under her breath and folded the tear back down with a fingertip. Looking up, she handed me the envelope with a smile.