A high percentage of the population have not got Wills in place. With a Will, life is made easy for everyone. A Will eliminates the game of chance. It provides certainty. Money and wealth goes where the maker of the will intends it to go. There can be many and quite severe unintended consequences if there is no Will.
With no Will, it is necessary to follow the intestacy rules. These set out the pecking order for those who might stand to benefit. Sometimes it is necessary for professionals like myself to engage genealogists to carry out detailed research into family trees. This ensures accuracy and eliminates risks. They can trace virtually anyone and know how to navigate their way round the most complex of cases, usually involving a strong international element. I have come across two recent, interesting cases which indicate what can happen when no Will is in place, and both cases have their roots in Poland.
NO NEAR RELATIVES
The first case was that of an elderly lady who died intestate in this country, and seemingly had outlived all her nearest relatives. Genealogists were called in to investigate a whole class of blood uncles and aunts and their issue. The lady was born in eastern Poland and the genealogist discovered that some lines of the family had disappeared off the face of the earth.
Some records were found showing some members of the family were murdered in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. The worldwide Jewish community, however, has preserved testimony from holocaust survivors, much of which appears to be available on-line. The genealogists were able to discover seven potential heirs to the old lady’s estate. Two of these avoided being transported to the Auschwitz camp with the help of Oskar Schindler. He was instrumental in saving the lives of 850 Jews. If you have still to see the film “Schindler’s List”, I would urge you to do so.
The second case involved an elderly Polish man who had served in the Polish Home Army during World War II. He settled to live in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire after the war and married an English lady. She died before him, and they had no children. As he had no Will, genealogists were called in to search for any of his surviving siblings, and the search started in Poland.
The researchers found that he was born in Plock in Poland. A researcher in Poland checked the local records office and discovered that he had in fact been married before the war in Plock. The researcher struck lucky and found that his wife was in fact still alive and is still living in Poland. It was also revealed that she had married twice again on the basis that her soldier husband was presumed dead.
The researchers satisfied themselves that the old soldier had not in fact divorced his Polish bride. This rendered his marriage to the English lady bigamous. His Polish bride told the researchers that she remarried because she thought he had perished in the war. She made enquiries and got nowhere and he made no contact her or with family. The researchers brushed over the fact that two subsequent marriages were also bigamous – why upset her when she was not at fault?
The good news for her was that as the survivor of her first husband, she became his sole beneficiary. She therefore was able to become the legal owner of all his assets. In this case she suddenly became richer by £250,000. It appears that the shock of this incredible news and unexpected windfall did not see her off. One’s hope therefore is that she has been able to enjoy the unintended consequences of her first marriage and of the fact that her first husband had not taken any steps to draw up a Will during his lifetime in England.
EFFECT OF INTESTACY
I would imagine that neither the old lady nor the old man both of whom emigrated from Poland to England would really have wished their estate to go to their ultimate recipient. Doubtless they would have had loved ones in England such as dear friends. Had they prepared Wills then they would have been able to benefit those they really cared for and might have wished to gift part of their estate to their favourite charities. Instead relatives whom the old lady never knew existed, and a wartime bride the old soldier had long forgotten about, hit the jackpot.
OPT FOR CERTAINTY
The moral of these two cases is that you should never leave anything to chance. In particular, if you are in a relationship outside of marriage, it is vital that you have a Will in place so that your partner can benefit. If there is no Will, the intestacy rules will apply, and their chances of getting anything at all are severely limited. It is more than likely that they will have to make an application to the Court for their financial welfare to be considered. This involves a lengthy, expensive and highly stressful procedure which could have been wholly eliminated with a Will in place. So opt for certainty. Put a Will in places as soon as you can.
If you require help with a Will, with a Lasting Power of Attorney or with sorting out your loved one’s affairs after they have passed on, then please do not hesitate to get in touch with us here at Busbys. You can contact us on 01288 35 9000 and see also Busbys’ advert in this newspaper.
Bude & Holsworthy