Death is a funny thing, the existential angst. We all want to live but know we are going to die etc. We live much of our lives living like it will never end. But it will end and sometimes it is by our own hand. For those left behind after a suicide the trauma can be devasting. Not having a Will and trying to make sense of everything just adds to the stress and chaos that often follows. Dying intestate means dying without a Will, is not always the end of the world if you are married but it can get complicated if you are not married or in a civil partnership.
A client of mine had lived with his partner of more than 10 years. His partner, for various reasons, including a long history of mental health problems committed suicide. At some level it was not unexpected but devastating nonetheless. It was carefully planned and the chances of being found in the nick of time had been eliminated. They shared a property but it was in her sole name and there was a mortgage on the property. There were other assets which generated a regular income.
However, there was no Will, no indication written down as to how she wanted her estate to be distributed. His partner had no contact with her family for more than 15 years. On her death, her two sisters appeared and simply took over. When you are traumatised it is hard to stand up for what you want to happen and for some it is a relief to let others deal with the emotionally painfull stuff.
The deceased’s family moved in and within two months of the death started talking about the property being sold and hinted at moving out arrangements. They said that they hadn’t spoken with a solicitor because they were too upset at the loss of their sister. Our client didnt know what to do. It was only when a legal friend pointed out the noitce in the The Gazette of the death that he began to feel uneasy. The notice is a notice to creditors and other people who may have an ‘interest’ in the estate. If they think that they have an interest any claim must be received by a specific date (at least two months from the date of the notice). He then knew that his partner’s sisters were dealing with his partner’s estate and probably had been for some time. He was shocked and anxious at the same time.
Lawyers are expensive so what do you do? Search the internet! The internet is great for many things and in relation death and its aftermath. In matters relating to estate administration there is a lot of credible and useful advice and guidance out there. However, it can also be frightening. Information can be in clear and simple English or it can be in legal jargon in the extreme. Add a drop of grief and it can be come a minefield. One article will reassure you but another will send you into despair. In my experience, whatever is read doesn’t always encourage you to seek proper legal advice until it is too late. Time moves on and after a little more research you are even more confused. It is easier to focus in on the grief than deal with the hard decision about taking some action.
When you die without a Will you are said to be intestate. There are a set of rules which set out how your estate is divided. These are called intestacy rules. If you are not married there is no legal entitlement to any part of the deceased’s estate unless you owned assets jointly. For most people who find themselves in this situation it is not unreasonable to expect something from the estate.
Our client could make a claim as a dependent of the deceased. If they had had children then the children would also need to claim an interest. Was it is reasonable for him to expect that some provision would have been made for him given their relationship and time together. In his situation the answer was a clear yes. He could make a claim against her estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Dependants) Act 1975. However, many months had passed and there are time limits and criteria that need to be met. Our client was in a good position to make such a claim. He was in the middle of his own grief and thinking about litigation was the last thing on his mind. As it stood, her family would inherit all if he did not act.
When he contacted us it was initially for general advice – his way of trying to piece together the various bits of information he had gotten from the internet. It was clear that he understood some parts of what he needed to do but not everything and time was running out. A grant of administration had been issued so he needed to begin the process of making a claim sooner rather than later.
It is not an easy process for our client. He is grieving and any form of litigation is the last thing on his mind. He thinks that by making a claim he will upset everyone and will appear to be greedy. Sometimes he is angry about having to do anything at all. Dealing with his partner’s family is extremely stressful and sometimes abusive. She tells him he has no rights to anything that she owned etc etc etc. We will get there in the end.
If you find yourself in a similar situation and would like expert advice, contact Eilish Adams by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 020 3150 2525.