As a Probate Solicitor, I pick up the pieces of the life that was. I frequently deal with estates where there were no close relatives to assist the deceased during their lifetime. In other cases there might have been one relative assisting and others have been more distant, this can be for various reasons.
I have written before about “Christine”, he or she may have been a friend or neighbour of the deceased who helped out from time to time but in effect became a carer. Some of these carers give up a lot of their time to help. They may be doing the shopping, housework, assisting with hospital visits or battling their way through the maze that is the Social Care system.
In other instances, a neighbour may keep an eye on the house if someone has to go into hospital, or they may be looking after the house after the deceased has passed away. In one case that I dealt with, Madeleine had lived alone for years. She was a widow and neither she nor her husband had brothers or sisters. Her parents had died many years ago as had those of her husband. To sum up, Madeleine was rather short of relatives. However, she did have a good neighbour; his name was Dave. Dave had done some gardening for Madeleine over the years, he opened her curtains in the morning when she was in hospital, and he turned on the lights at night. I was requested to attend to Madeleine’s estate by her nephew Bill, who lived in London. Bill was the sole beneficiary of Madeleine’s estate. Whilst the two of them got along amicably; they had not seen one another for two years prior to Madeleine’s death.
Dave said he would be happy to go on looking after the house whilst it stood empty. He also did the garden, checked the house daily and basically saved Bill quite a lot of money. He indicated to me that Madeleine had always said that she would leave him something in her will for all the help he had given her.
Guess What? There was no mention of Dave in the will. I had actually drafted the will the year before, and Madeleine was quite emphatic that her only beneficiary was to be Bill. Not charities, not Bill’s children, not Madeleine’s local church, I covered all of these options.
It might be the case that Dave was actually suggesting to Madeleine that she include him in her will, she may have felt that he was, in fact, an absolute nuisance. It may have been that she made false promises just so that he would leave her alone. I suggested to Bill that, as Dave has saved him money in gardening fees and had saved my fees as I didn’t have to check on the house as often, he should give Dave some of his inheritance. I, therefore, took a cheque round to Dave and thanked him for all of his hard work.
In another case, a paid carer was of the opinion that Ernie would definitely have left her some money. “I knew I was in that will; I was there when he made it”, she shouted at me when I advised her that Ernie had changed his will not long before his death. I was aware of the fact that the carer and Ernie had not seen each other for quite some years, in fact, I was specifically called in by Ernie to remove all reference to the carer as he felt rather let down by her.
In other cases it upsets me when people are helping someone who may be frail, vulnerable and without help from their own families. You would be surprised how often this happens. These are the unsung heroes in life. They do not seek any thanks or money. Are you being cared for by such a person? This hero is probably even helping you to remain in your own home rather than you having to move into a care home. Have you thought about that? Where are your relatives? Have you adopted the view that blood is thicker than water?
Without mentioning this to the person who is helping you why don’t you consider leaving them a token of your appreciation in your will? But don’t muddy the waters by letting your helper know that you are considering leaving them something in your will, you do not wish to create any false expectations or alter the relationship between you in any way. The same applies to family members.
Otherwise, you can create a situation known as Propriety Estoppel. A son recently brought a case in the High Court. He had worked on his father’s farm since the 1970’s and did so for low wages on the basis that he would inherit the farm. Unfortunately, his father changed his mind and gave the farm to his other son who was a property developer. The son who had been made the promises took the matter to court and won, he was able to prove under the doctrine of Propriety Estoppel that he had acted to his own detriment for years based upon the promises that his father had made to him.
Overall, I think that my message is about doing the right thing. Look out for those who genuinely care for you and protect yourself and your family from those that seek to take advantage. And don’t forget to review your will regularly, are you still in touch with your beneficiaries?
If you require any help with an issue like those highlighted here, please do not hesitate to contact me,
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