When Walter Died Without Making His Will: Maria’s Spousal Story
Maria was a nurse’s aide who married Walter. They lived together in Walter’s house for 17 years before Walter died without a will.
Walter owned his house — in his name — after his divorce and had a large mortgage. Walter was estranged from his adult daughter, Sylvia. She lived in another country and never visited Walter. Sylvia only emailed her father to ask for money. Walter secretly sent Sylvia money.
Maria had used an inheritance to retire Walter’s mortgage. Suddenly, Walter took sick. He was diagnosed with cancer. The doctors told Walter to get his affairs in order. Walter shrugged his shoulders and told Maria, “I promise you, the house will be yours — whatever happens.” Maria relied on Walter’s promise.
Walter thought Maria automatically inherited their house as his spouse. But Walter was the only registered owner. Walter should have made his will to pass his home to Maria.
Walter died without a will and his province’s intestacy rules applied. His daughter Sylvia inherited a portion of his house. This placed Sylvia and Maria at odds. Sylvia demanded that Walter’s house be sold.
Maria Needed to Hire Estate Lawyers
Maria had to find a lawyer to take her case to court.
She had to meet with four different lawyers before she found one who could help her. She needed to pay her lawyer to represent her in court before judges. She could not sleep properly waiting for her day in court.
Judges appointed an independent estate representative to manage Walter’s estate. The estate representative’s fees were 5% of Walter’s estate or $60,000. If Walter’s will had made Maria his executor, she would have saved $60,000.
Sylvia refused to back down and wanted $200,000. Maria’s lawyers settled with Sylvia. Three years later, Walter’s broken promise cost Maria over $350,000. Maria kept working an extra 13 years to pay off her new mortgage.
What if Walter had made his will? Maria could have inherited their home. She could have had fewer sleepless nights and retired sooner.
Q: I typed out my last wishes and signed it. Is that a valid will?
A: Hard to say what you may have left out. You may not realize what is missing. You did not mention you had two witnesses to your signature. Wills are legal documents and are subject to rules that judges interpret. Lawyer-prepared wills or those you prepare personally must comply with the same legal requirements. You don’t get a free pass because you wanted to save money.
Your bucket wish list may not be legally enforceable as your will. “Wishes” can be ignored if not legally binding. Wills are subject to applicable estate, tax, property and family laws in your jurisdiction. Those laws can trump anything you wished for.
You want to learn from Maria’s story and make your will.
But what if you have a will already?
Is Your Will Up to Date?
Read my next post and use my checklist to find out if you need to update your will.Ed Olkovich In: Estates, Wills On: July 27th, 2018