Dying without a Will - horror stories from the other side of the grave

July 22, 2022
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Leanne Russell

To die intestate means you die without a valid Will - which means either no Will at all, or invalid because of things like no signatures or signatures not witnessed correctly.

And the scary fact is...thousands, tens of thousands, of people die intestate every year. In fact, ASIC estimates ‘nearly half’ the adults in Australia die without one which is about 80,000 people.

Whilst you may think that you have no need of a Will because you don’t have enough or any assets...think again! Even having a bank account, or superannuation is a reason to have a Will. Having a Will helps your loved ones, not hinder them.

Here are some true stories of what happened to the wives, children and loved ones of someone who died intestate. All names have been changed.

We hope that, after reading some of these horror stories, if you haven’t got a Will organised, you’ll get started by completing the Will Plan in Anticipate Life.

What’s mine is yours... not always

Jenny and Peter were married for 40 years. They were as happy together after 40 years as they were after 1 year. They had a daughter, Sally. But due to a serious disagreement, she was estranged from them and they hadn’t seen or spoken to Sally for years.

When Peter died without a valid Will, instead of the whole estate being bequeathed to his wife, Jenny, a significant portion was passed to Sally. This wasn’t what Peter wanted but without a Will stating that wish, the state appointed administrator had a formula that prescribed the distribution of assets, not just to the spouse, but any children as well.

So it seems that what is mine may not, be all yours.

Relative strangers

Mary was single and had no children. She made a Will leaving her substantial estate to her mother. However, her mother died before her and Mary had not updated her own Will when she died.

For more than two years, the administrator from the Public Trustee undertook extensive searches of Mary’s maternal and paternal family trees, resulting in 20 distant elderly cousins receiving varying shares of Mary’s estate. Some of these cousins died during the estate administration, complicating the estate further. Very few of the beneficiaries actually knew Mary.

We have to wonder if Mary would have wanted to pass on her assets to ‘relative strangers’.

I’ll look after you

John shared the family home with his elderly father, for whom he was the main carer. John didn’t have time for any other employment as he spent the whole day caring for his father. Luckily he received some financial support from the Government to do so. His father was grateful for the care John gave and always said that he would look after John when he was gone. He could have the house, the car, everything.

When his father died without a Will, John no longer received the carer’s allowance or other support. Since the estate’s assets including the house, needed to be sold to cover taxes and other costs, that now left John homeless. This caused a lot of additional stress on John, at a time that he was going through grieving his father. Now he had to find employment, at a late stage of his life, to be able to afford rent on a small unit and to live. It would be over 18 months before John received anything from the remaining estate.

We are sure that the father had a different version of looking after John in mind.

Instant millionaire

Josie was a beautiful, young 22 year old, at the start of an exciting career and looking forward to her life ahead, when she died in a tragic accident. She had not thought to make a Will, given her age, however her estate received a $2M insurance payout due to the circumstances of her accidental death.

Because she had not made a Will, Josie’s estate was divided between her parents. That probably would have been Josie’s wish too, however Josie didn’t know her father. He had left the family when Josie was three months old and did not pay a cent of child support or have any connection to Josie while she was growing up. He was really just a father in name only.

Her family claims there is no way Josie would have wanted her father to receive anything, but now he was an instant millionaire.

Defacto steps

Karen was born in New Zealand and immigrated to Australia, where she met her partner, Susan. They lived in a de facto relationship for over twenty years and Karen helped raise Susan’s three children from her previous marriage. These children lived with the couple until they were adults and they considered Karen their mum, as much as they did their maternal mother, Susan.

Susan died before Karen and in her Will, she left Karen her estate. Karen continued the close relationship she shared with Susan’s children for many more years.

When Karen died without a Will, Susan’s children did not receive any of the estate, which also included the family home, where they had lived their entire lives with the couple. Since Karen’s defacto step children were not formally acknowledged in a Will, Karen’s estate was given to a brother living in New Zealand.

Defacto and step children are important relationships that require formal acknowledgement in a Will.

Make your wishes known - make a Will !