Money

Smash-hit podcast 'S-Town' shows just how disastrous it can be not to make a will

Warning: The following contains implicit spoilers.

The producers of "Serial" and "This American Life" have created yet another hit podcast, the twisty Southern Gothic series "S-Town," which debuted to acclaim this past week and has set new records on iTunes.

Although its subject is ostensibly true crime — host Brian Reed travels to rural Alabama to investigate what he's told is a murder and a cover-up involving a rich family and corrupt local police — what "S-Town" is really about, in many ways, is inheritance.

The show's most sobering takeaway might be that, when you don't make a will, everything can go wrong.

“Years ago, an antique clock restorer contacted me and asked me to help him solve a murder.” #STown, Chapter I

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Reed is lured to the deep South by the brilliant, moody and eccentric clock-restorer John B. McLemore, who has lived his whole life on a parcel of land that's been passed down through generations of his family since the late 1800s. He hates his town (the show's title derives from his profane moniker for the place), but he also feels a deep loyalty to it.

He has more than put down roots: In addition to numerous thriving plants, he has cultivated a life-sized labyrinthine hedge maze in his backyard. And he has perhaps buried treasure there, too.

When it comes to his assets, McLemore is cagey, both in conversation with Reed and in his conversations with his friends, but he indicates that he's well off. His peers speculate that, in addition to whatever McLemore inherited from his own parents, he has made hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years as a world-class builder and fixer of antique timepieces. He may even have millions.

Since he doesn't trust banks any more than he trusts cops, he says that he has converted most of his money into gold and hidden it around his property. He has various ideas for what should be done with his wealth after his death: A particular cash-strapped friend should get some gold, he says, as should certain charities he's passionate about.

Unfortunately, listeners discover, McLemore has never formalized any arrangements by making a will. And all of this becomes relevant when, at the end of episode two, the podcast takes an unexpected turn.

More than half of Americans don't have a will. Many people are unnerved by the prospect of confronting their own mortality, or perhaps just by the idea of having to deal with lawyers. Others intend to take the time to draw up the document, but don't prioritize it.

"S-Town" reveals what can happen if you neglect to spell out what you want done with your money (and where it can be found).

To keep your own family members and friends from descending into chaos, spite and recrimination: Make a will. It's easier and cheaper than you think, CNBC reports:

With simple estates, you can find free templates of wills online and just get them notarized.

For a little more hand-holding, online legal services such as Avvo and LegalZoom provide brief consultation services with estate lawyers for prices ranging from $40 to $80.

If you have complicated holdings, look for an attorney who specializes in wills and trusts through the National Association of Estate Planners and Counsels and American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.

Then you can listen to the noir-ish, devastating "S-Town" with a clear conscience.