Co-op Member, Jane Wilkinson, dealt with the Probate of her mother's and her father's separate Estates 6 years apart, on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Both of these experiences were made significantly more complicated and expensive because there was no Will. Janes shares her experience with us.
Jane's Mother Swore Blind She Had Made a Will
Jane's mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2000. Sadly the cancer spread to most of her body and, eventually, her brain. She died four years after she was diagnosed.
When she was first diagnosed, Jane's mother told her that she had already made a Will and taken out a Pre-paid Funeral Plan. It was something that the family talked openly about, with Jane's mother joking that she couldn't trust Jane to bury her properly!
After her mother passed away, Jane searched for her Will and Funeral Plan but nothing could be found. She spoke to the Family Solicitor and rung around all the local funeral directors but came up empty handed.
Maybe her mother stored her Will with a Solicitor that Jane couldn't find, maybe she used an unregulated Will writing firm that had since gone out of business or maybe she purchased a DIY Will off the internet and then misplaced it. Maybe she simply hadn't got around to it after all - maybe she thought she had more time. But then Jane doubts her mother would say she had done something if she hadn't.
Make Sure Wills Are Easy to Find
Regardless of whether or not Jane's mother had made a Will, sadly it couldn't be found when it was needed. It's so important to let loved ones know where Wills are stored, (whether this is at home or with a professional) so that they can be easily found when the time comes.
Jane doesn't have any siblings, but suspects her situation could have been a lot more complicated if she did. She explained that it was hard enough going through Probate alone, without siblings to disagree with, so it must be much harder when there are more people to consider.
Despite the absence of siblings, the Estate administration was still not plain sailing for Jane. In the absence of a Will, Jane and her aunt disagreed on what should happen to her mother's jewellery. Jane's aunt felt that she was entitled to jewellery that had originally come from Jane's grandmother (on her mother's side). When she had died, it had been passed to her husband (Jane's grandfather) who then distributed it to family members as he saw fit, keeping no record. Jane's aunt felt that these items should now pass to her as they had come from her parents originally.
Jane and her aunt never made amends following this disagreement, and 14 years later they still do not speak.
If they had found her mother's Will and it stipulated what should happen to the jewellery, Jane wonders if this situation could have been avoided.
Make Sure Assets Are Easy to Find
Another challenge for Jane during the administration of her mother's Estate was discovering exactly what her mother owned. She had no idea how much money her mother had or where this was kept, as her mother had not documented this anywhere.
Twelve years after her mother died, Jane received a letter from a bank informing her that they still had an open account in her mother's name. Jane was completely unaware that the account existed and the bank had only just discovered that the account holder was deceased. Luckily the bank was able to get in touch with Jane, otherwise this money might never have come to light.
If Jane had had access to her mother's Will, then this might have detailed all of the bank accounts and other assets held in her name, which would have helped Jane to ensure that nothing was missed.
Jane's Father Died in the USA without a Will
Six years after the death of her mother in the UK, Jane's father passed away in the USA. He and Jane's mother had separated when Jane was a child and he had moved to America. Jane then didn't see much of her father until she was an adult.
She didn't expect to inherit anything from her father, but as his only child it naturally fell to her to deal with his Estate. Although they were in touch, Jane didn't know her father especially well and she wasn't sure whether to expect to find a Will. Unfortunately, she didn't come across one.
Jane travelled out to the USA shortly after her father's death to deal with the practicalities of the funeral and packing up her father's home.
She found the laws in the USA to be very different to those in the UK. As her father hadn't left a Will naming Jane as the person who should wind up his affairs, she was told by the bank that she would have to wait 45 days after providing the death certificate to be able to close his bank account. As she was only going to be in the country for a few days, it simply wasn't possible for her to wait this long. If Jane's father had left a Will giving Jane authority to wind up his affairs, it seems this wouldn't have been an issue.
The main asset left by Jane's father was his pension, which could be passed on after his death if he hadn't drawn it. Again, because there was no Will, even though Jane was entitled to inherit this she had to go through a long winded process of proving who she was and even had to pay for an attorney-at-law to notarise her identity while she was in America.
Jane and Her Partner Made Wills
Jane explained that she and her partner have always appreciated the importance of making a Will, saying, "It's an absolute minefield if you don't put a Will in place."
They thought about making Wills for some time before they got around to it, partly because they have a child together. Once Jane had gone through the experience of dealing with her parents' Estates, this spurred the couple on to make their Wills shortly after.
Jane and her partner have now made Mirror Wills. Jane has also made a Living Will, outlining her wishes around medical care and resuscitation if the need arises. These are safely stored and the whole family know exactly where to find them when the time comes.
Jane has now decided that she is going to make further additions to her Will, detailing where she would like her funeral to take place, the style of the service and whether or not there should be flowers. This decision has been triggered by the recent loss of her Mother-in-Law. Although her Mother-in-Law had made a Will and purchased a pre-paid funeral plan to make things easier for her loved ones, her sons have still struggled to decide on the finer details of her funeral. This has highlighted to Jane the importance of setting everything out in writing, so that there's no guess-work for loved ones when the time comes.
With the mystery of her mother's missing Will still troubling her, she said, "It's got to be out there somewhere, we just don't know where it is."
"People need to make a Will. This is all I can say. For the sake of their families and their loved ones."