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.
In UK law, you can leave whatever you want to whomever you want, assuming you own the asset in the first place. That means that if you want to leave money or property – or anything else – to your stepchildren, you are perfectly entitled to do so.
The problems start when there is no will. If there is no will then the estate will be distributed according to the laws of intestacy, and these laws are strict. There is a distinct list of people who will receive parts of the estate, and this list must be dealt with in order. The rules of intestacy do not, however, cover stepchildren, and this is important to bear in mind. Only a spouse, adopted child or blood relatives can inherit if there is no will.
And of course, even if you do have a will and you simply write that you want to leave everything to your children (or even siblings) this will not include stepchildren or stepbrothers and sisters. You will need to make a separate point for them.
Even if you have parental responsibility for a child, they still will not inherit unless they are your adopted or biological child. If they are stepchildren then the only way they will be able to inherit anything from your estate once you die is to write a will and ensure they are mentioned by name.
It is possible for a stepchild to challenge the rules of intestacy – or even a will. If they were financially dependent on the person who died, or if they had been treated like the person’s own child, they may have a claim to some of the estate. But this is a long-winded process and is expensive and distressing for everyone. It is easier by far to write a will that says what you want it to say.
It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It sounds like a story from a soap opera or melodrama. But actually, could a child conceived using your frozen sperm actually go on to inherit your estate? Well yes – they could. This is the 21st century version of an illegitimate child turning up to inherit a Victorian estate. Only in the modern day version, the child would probably have been conceived after your death. It all sounds rather confusing, complicated and not a little macabre, but it is entirely possible.
After all, isn’t that what frozen sperm is all about? Isn’t it saving a little of yourself (literally, in this case) for after you’ve gone, so that you can – in some small way – continue to live?
But since that is the case, it could be in some people’s interests to ensure that they consider this issue when they make their wills. It may sound strange to consider children who don’t currently exist, and possibly never will, but it is the best way to cover every eventuality. Because anything can happen when you die but leave behind not only an estate but genetic material too. And this could add an heir, even after you have gone.
Already a New York court has ruled that a posthumously conceived child is a descendent nonetheless, and can therefore receive an income from a family trust. It is slightly different in Florida and California, however. In those USA states the child must be born within 36 months of the father’s death in order to have any claim to any inheritance right.
But the best advice for those who have left sperm – or eggs – in frozen form for future use is to make a will that states specifically how and when those pieces of genetic material should be disposed of and, if any children are conceived using them, if they should have any of the inheritance at all.
Wills don’t only consist of listings of who you want to inherit what; wills are also a useful and impactful way to ensure that your wishes for what happens after your death are carried out – if at all possible. One of the most important pieces of information that you can include within your will is what should happen to your children (if you have any) after you die.
If their other parent is still alive, or if they are over the age of 18, this need not come into the will at all. But if your death would leave them an orphan who is under the age of 18, there will need to have been some provision made for them. The best way to make sure that they will continue to be cared for is to appoint a legal guardian.
If no guardian is included in the will then the courts will choose one for you. This may entail a court battle between different family sections (depending on the outcome), and could last for many years during which time your child or children will possibly be put into care. Not only that, but the judge may rule that a certain person will become the children’s guardian, and it might be someone you would never have wanted to do the job.
There are no set rules when it comes to choosing a guardian. You don’t, for example, have to choose a close family member such as a parent or sibling if you don’t feel that would be the right person to care for your child. Aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents are all eligible – as long as they understand what it takes to raise a child.
If you have no other family, or none of them are suitable to be your children’s guardian, then why not think of your friends? Good friends can be better guardians than family members sometimes, and can even have been closer than family.
There are no rules on who should or shouldn’t be guardians because it is an entirely subjective thing – the important part is that whoever is designated to look after your child or children has similar parenting values to you, and will bring the children up in a way you would be happy with. Not only will this mean that your values live on, but also that your child will feel more included, and won’t be additionally traumatised at a terribly difficult time.
If money concerns you, why not set up a trust for your children? Or name them as beneficiaries of your life insurance? The trust could even be left in the charge of the guardian, to use as is needed to ensure the child is happy and healthy, and then pass over to them when they become 18.
There are two other things that must be considered; even if the person or people you want to be guardians are perfect for the role, you need to ask a) whether your children like them and get on with them, or get on with their own children should they have any, and b) do they even want to be guardians? As much as they may adore your children, actually being responsible for them is a different matter and suddenly being confronted with the task on your death could be too much for them. Speak to them about it first, get their consent, and only then write it in your will – there will be so much upheaval for your children if you go ahead and choose them anyway, it’s just not worth doing.
We all have family we’ve lost touch with – those second cousins who we spot every now and then in old family photos, or who make an appearance at big occasions only to disappear into the ether once more when the cake has been cut. And we all have family we know nothing about – aunts and uncles, cousins, parents we never knew, grandparents too…
And sometimes even siblings.
That’s exactly what happened to a woman from West Oxfordshire who, when researching her family tree for her own genealogy project, realised she had a sister she knew nothing about.
Jennifer Coville discovered that she not only had a half-sister she knew nothing about, but a younger full sister too. The shock was huge, and she still doesn’t know exactly what happened, but she believes she would have been three, and her older brother 14, when her little sister was born and subsequently given up for adoption. Although she has met up with her half-sister, she has not been able to trace her full sister, and is stuck with the details she has.
Now 63, the grandmother from Brize Norton has said that it was all a big surprise for her, and also for her brother who, although 14 at the time, had no idea he had another sister either. Unfortunately, no relatives who might have an answer as to why the little girl was put up for adoption are still alive. The only clue Ms Coville has is that her parents divorced in 1955, in the same month that her baby sister was born. It could be that her mother, who already had two children to cope with, simply wasn’t able to look after a baby, a toddler, and a teenager as a single mother.
All Jennifer does know is that the child was called Patricia June Coville, and she was born on 5th June 1955. Of course, since she was adopted, it’s likely her name would have been changed.
The search for Patricia continues.
How Much Are You Expecting To Inherit
Did you know that one in ten people over 40 have planned to fund their entire retirement in an inheritance? In fact, the average amount that people in their early 40s expect to inherit from family is just over £180,000. Perhaps you’re one of them.
But it’s all guesswork for the most part. Unless the conversation between parents, grandparents, or whoever has the money, and the person expecting to receive it has taken place, nothing is guaranteed. And even then, wills can be changed.
So for the most part when the time comes for those people to inherit, they often receive much less than they had expected, thanks to a lot of over-estimating. In some cases this can simply be a little disappointing. In others it can cause serious financial problems.
The reality of inheritance is that the average amount left to the people in this age bracket is just under £70,000 (this is after tax and any care home costs associated).
The problem in the sums seems to be mainly due to lack of communication. Only around 40% of 40-50 year olds had actually discussed the whole inheritance issue with their loved ones. The other 60% made assumptions which turned out to be very wrong indeed. It could be that they have over valued any property involved, or underestimated just how much care their parents will need – and how much it costs – as they grow older. This can easily eat away at an inheritance, and quickly too.
The repercussions of these miscalculations can sometimes mean that retirement plans have to be delayed indefinitely, and a vision of having the time and the means to finally enjoy one’s hobbies, go travelling, or simply have a comfortable life can disappear forever.
If you are planning to use an inheritance to fund your retirement, you should talk to those you expect to leave you the money as soon as you can. You need to be able to make long term plans, and having this information is essential. You may need to source alternative additional funds, and the earlier you find this out the better.
Knowing the figures involved will also be helpful when it comes to calculating inheritance tax, and perhaps even reducing that bill whilst your parents (for example) are still alive. And to ensure they have written a will in the first place.