A man named Stephen Jackson has been found to have stolen almost one million New Zealand dollars from his dying mother. The man actually sold his parents’ house whilst his mother was in the process of writing her will – even though that will said that Ivy Jackson wanted to split the property between her three children. However, by the time she died the house had already been sold and it was too late to do anything about it.
Stephen Jackson then took a further $250,000 from his mother’s bank account after she passed away.
Only one of Mr Jackson’s siblings was living at the time of their mother’s death, and the High Court in New Zealand found in favour of that sibling, Raymond Jackson. It was found that Stephen and his wife Linda owed almost $1.1 million, plus interest, to the estate of his dead mother.
But how could this have happened in the first place?
In January 2014, Ivy Jackson suffered a stroke and was unable to return to her home. Knowing that she was very unwell, she proceeded to write a will which, two days later, was completed. The will stated that she wanted the house to be sold, and for the proceeds from the sale to be shared between her children equally. Everything that was left over would go to Stephen and Linda Jackson.
However, because Stephen had been made power of attorney after his mother’s stroke, he had already made arrangements to sell the house.
Ivy Jackson died one year later after spending 12 months in a nursing home. Stephen said that he had had to sell the house in order to pay for the home (and the payment for it does seem to have come from the proceeds of the house sale). However, Ivy had enough put into savings to pay for these fees without the need to sell the house at that time. And, despite some of the money being used for the care home, almost $600,000 was still unaccounted for when the case went to court.
On top of that, it was discovered that Stephen Jackson used his status as power of attorney to withdraw around $300,000 from a joint account that had been held by his mother and father.
And, although they were both named as executors in Ivy’s will, neither Stephen nor Linda actually executed it, and instead continued to make withdrawals from a variety of different accounts.
The couple did not attend the hearing and they cannot be contacted, although it is thought that they have since moved to Queensland. The case is therefore ongoing.
The Law Society – the body that exists to assist all solicitors – has recently suggested that the probate process (and inheritance tax situation) should be made easier. At the moment, it is a long-winded process that is made harder because of the timing of it; it is done when families are still grieving over the loss of their loved one.
The Law Society has created 22 different and very detailed recommendations about these potential changes in the probate system, and has submitted them to the government. The idea behind the recommendations is to ensure that everyone is treated equally, and to give everyone involved in the process the knowledge and information they need to do what is required quickly and easily. Right now, families often feel rather confused and unsure as to what they are meant to be doing.
It isn’t only the probate system that is confusing; inheritance tax can often worry people as well, even though it doesn’t always need to be part of their grieving process. The chairman of the tax committee of the Law Society, Gavin McGuire, wants more clarity in all of these situations and systems so that no one is left feeling confused whilst also dealing with their grief. A simplified taxation system and probate process would alleviate many of the issues that come with them at the moment. Something else that would also help would be extended times for the work to be done. This would allow for the grieving process to be over (as far as that is ever possible) before work needs to be done.
The need to write a will is always there, but it can make people rather anxious – they don’t like to think about their own deaths, and neither do they want to make a mistake that would make their will invalid when they do pass away. So it is often a job that is put off, and sometimes it simply never gets done.
But there are some hints and tips to write the perfect will – once you have read this list, you should be able to get your will written, tick it off the to do list, and forget all about it (except to tell people where it is kept, of course).
There are a few different options to pick from when it comes to choosing who writes your will. You can do it yourself, you can engage a solicitor, or you can go to a specialist will writer. All of these options will give you a will, and picking the right one for you can depend on your budget as well as how confident you feel in the will writing process.
For example, a DIY will is great for those on a lower budget, but if you are unsure of exactly what you need to do, it may not be an option that you are comfortable with. You will need to weigh up the pros and cons of each different option and make your own decision.
You will need to choose at least one executor for your will. Think about this carefully before simply picking someone out of thin air. It is a very demanding role, there is a lot to be done, and not everyone will be willing to do it. Ask whoever you are thinking of choosing whether they are happy to take on the role before you name them in your will.
The person you choose will need to be responsible and meticulous – not everyone is suited to being a solicitor.
It’s always a good idea to have ‘back up’ executors written into your will. What would happen if your spouse was named as your executor, but you both died in a car accident? You wouldn’t have a living executor to get the work done. This is just one reason (not wanting to carry out the role is another) why having a ‘spare’ executor is a good idea.
If you have children under 18, it is wise to appoint a guardian or guardians for them. Although your partner or spouse may be living when you write your will, there is no guarantee that they will be when you die and the will needs to come into effect. If you both die together, or your partner dies before you and you don’t update your will, your children could be left with no one to look after them. If this happens, the state will appoint guardians, and they may not be the people you would have chosen yourself.
If you are thinking of setting up a trust (if, for example, any of your beneficiaries are under 18, or are unable to make their own decisions, you will need to do this) then you will need to appoint responsible trustees as well. Make sure you choose someone who understands finances where possible, as this will make it much easier for them when the time comes.
Being specific in your will is the best idea. If you want family heirlooms or items that have specific sentimental value (jewellery often falls into this category) to go to someone then make sure you write that information within your will. Otherwise no one will know. Simply telling someone what you are planning will not be enough.
If you are doing as you should and being specific, make sure that the residual of your estate is also accounted for. If, after your specific legacies have been given out, there is anything left of your estate, you could create a situation when you are in partial intestacy, and the rules of intestacy will need to be taken into account.
Sign Your Will
This is something that those who choose to create a DIY will often forget – in order for it to be valid, it must be signed in front of two independent witnesses. Those witnesses must not be beneficiaries, and neither can they be married to anyone who is a beneficiary.
Store The Will
Storing your will in a safe storage facility is the best idea – it will be protected from damage including fire and water damage. And it won’t be lost, either. The worst thing that you can do after writing the perfect will is to hide it where no one will be able to find it when they need it!
Unlike in the distant past when there was just one way – finding a solicitor – to write your will, these days there are a variety of different options. Which one you choose depends on how confident you feel about getting it right; remember, any errors that are made in a will can hold up probate, or could even render it invalid.
Use A Solicitor
This is, for some, the safest way of writing a will. Safe in that the solicitor is an expert, and this is what they do day in, day out. They are not, of course, infallible, but they are used to getting these things exactly right.
It is also the most expensive options, so sometimes it can be more about budget than about personal choice – but that doesn’t mean that the other choices open to you are no good; they may suit you better in the end.
However, you should engage a solicitor to write your will if your estate is worth over £325,000 and there will be inheritance tax to pay on it. You should also use a solicitor if your family situation is a little more complicated than most (including estranged children, multiple marriages, and so on). Using a solicitor guarantees that your estate will go to the people or person you choose, rather than the one that the state says should receive the inheritance. A solicitor will also help you to protect the interests of anyone disabled, or underage – trusts can be set up, for example. It can also be good to use a solicitor if you are simply unsure of how to go about things; just having someone to speak to about your options can really help.
Use A Will Writing Service
The good news about using a will writing service is that they do tend to offer a good amount of support, much like a solicitor would, but for less money. This can be ideal if you have questions, but your budget simply won’t stretch to hiring a solicitor. It can also be much quicker than using a solicitor’s service. That’s because the people working for a will writing service only have that one job to do – a solicitor will have various other jobs as well, and the waiting times can be fairly lengthy.
As long as you do your research before engaging a will writing company then it is unlikely that you will receive poor service. Remember to find out how long they have been in the industry, and what their experience is (particularly with more complex family situations and with trusts). Although there is no law that says the will writer needs to be legally qualified, there are professional organisations that they can join – try to choose someone in one of those organisations if possible. It will give you peace of mind and comeback should something go wrong.
Write Your Will Yourself
Writing your own will can be a risk, but it is also the cheapest way of writing one, so it does often appeal. There is nothing wrong with a ‘DIY will’ (in fact, we offer them!) as long as you have carefully thought out what you want to include. This type of will is only really recommended, however, when your estate is a simple one.
Templates can be downloaded after being completed online. Once it is written, you will need to ensure that the will is witnessed, signed, and dated.
There are thousands of empty homes in the UK, and, according to recent research, around 90 percent of those homes are empty due to poorly managed or complicated probate. This has held the process up, meaning that although the previous owner of the property is now deceased, it cannot be sold until probate is completed. It is therefore left empty, and at the mercy of thieves and squatters. This in turn reduces the potential value of the house or flat, and causes my possible issues regarding the estate.
The main reason for homes being empty is that those dealing with the will of the deceased – the executors – have no understanding of the probate process. And why should they? Being an executor is not something that people are called upon to do every day. It is extremely important that, if you are an executor for someone’s estate, you ask for expert advice.
Another problem is that the home owner dies intestate – that is, without a will. With no final direction from the deceased, it can be difficult to arrange probate in a sufficiently quick time.
And what if beneficiaries can’t be found? This holds up proceedings as well. As can missing paperwork and family disputes around what should or should not happen.
It’s not just legal or tangible problems either. Sometimes an emotional attachment to a property can mean that it isn’t sold as quickly as it should be. Although completely understandable, and although of course emotions will come into the events that need to happen after someone dies, it is still important to think logically, and sell the home in a timely manner – even if it is a well-loved childhood home.
Intestacy is what happens when someone dies without a will. There are a set of rules that are then put in place to determine who should inherit the estate. These rules need to be followed in exactly the right order so that the estate is handled correctly.
However, heir hunters are now suggesting that millions of pounds of inheritances are actually ending up with the wrong people, as too many estates are incorrectly labelled as being intestate when, in fact, a will simply has not yet been found. This speed to create intestate estates is causing many problems as it means the wrong people are, in some cases, inheriting the wrong amounts. Sometimes it turns out that they shouldn’t have inherited anything at all.
There are currently 10,500 estates that are listed as unclaimed. These are listed on the bona vacantia division of the government’s legal department, but estimates suggest that around one fifth of these estates shouldn’t be on the list at all because there are actually wills that relate to them.
The problem has occurred because the government is carrying out fewer will searches, and that means that the bona vacantia list is growing up as many as 50 every week.
Many heir hunters have checked the list, and begun their work to find the long lost family of the deceased – this is the way they have always worked – but are running into difficulties because, after they have found the people who would be entitled to the estate, the will has actually been found (often simply within the personal belongings of the deceased), and everything has to change. Although this is disappointing to those who thought they might be receiving some money, it is worse if the money has already exchanged hands.
As with any profession, there are people who are excellent examples of how to work and be, and there are others who are less savoury characters, and the heir hunting profession is no different. In 1999 in New York, one of these less savoury heir hunters decided to do a little extra work to get what he wanted.
In 1999, Polish immigrant Halina Czechowska died from a heart attached. She had lived in New York’s East Village for 30 years, and yet hardly knew a soul. But when further investigation was mounted, it turned out that she had an estate worth over $250,000. However, she had no known heirs, and she had not left a will. For almost 10 years, her estate was left to gather dust, the details put into an unclaimed funds account.
Until Vadim Tevelev made an appearance in 2008. He was the owner of a lab on Staten Island, and one of his many sidelines was finding heirs to unclaimed estates. In 2008, Tevelev went to court claiming to represent a long lost niece of Ms Czechowska’s, who was currently living in Moscow, Russia. There was plenty of evidence to show that this was the case, but before any kind of payout was made (including a percentage to Tevelev himself), something was noticed. The genealogical papers that he presented to the court were shown to be forgeries. Quite a problem for him.
However, what this turn of events also shows was who Halina Czechowska really was. Her actual name was Anna Portianko, and she was born in a tiny village in the Ukraine. This news was discovered when her great niece and nephew were clearing out a shed on their father’s property, and they found some old letters. The oldest was dated 1959, and was addressed to Anna/Halina’s mother. However, according to reports, her mother had not heard anything from her since 1942 when she was taken by Nazi troops and, at just 20 years old, was sent to a labour camp.
When the camps were liberated in 1945, Anna knew enough not to go back to the Ukraine where there would be nothing for her. Instead she made her way to a displaced person’s camp, and assumed the identity of a Polish national. This meant she did not have to be returned to her homeland (only those who were part of the Soviet territories had to do that). It is likely that this decision saved her life. Anna spent 12 years in England before heading to America in 1959, at which point she was finally able to write home. She pretended that she was Halina at first, a friend of Anna’s, because she did not want to get her family in trouble.
Eventually she told them the truth.
However, the truth did not come to light for a long time as Anna’s sister and parents had died. The letters that the family members found set them on a journey to find Anna, but she had already passed away. They were, however, awarded her legacy.
Notorious child killer Ian Brady died on 15th May 2017, never having revealed the whereabouts of the body of one of his victims, Keith Bennett, who had been 12 at the time of his murder. Myra Hindley and Ian Brady were the Moors Murderers, and between them they killed five children, burying the bodies of three of their victims (Lesley Anne Downey, Pauline Reade, and John Kilbride) on Saddleworth Moor.
It was feared that Brady’s ashes might be scattered on Saddleworth Moor, which was – horribly – one of his favourite places. However, Brady’s solicitor has confirmed that there is no chance at all of this happening. This has relieved many people, not least the families of the children who died.
The solicitor took the unusual step of ensuring that everyone was aware that the remains were not be taken to Saddleworth Moor because the coroner looking into the death wanted a guarantee that it would not happen before he would release the body.
In many instances, the choice of where to spread ashes is not something that is a problem. The rules are very relaxed about this, although it is wise to get the land owner’s permission if possible if it belongs to someone else. With regards to Saddleworth Moor, this is a public space, and there would usually not be any restrictions to scattering ashes there. This is a very different and unusual case.