Saturday, 15 March 2008

Battle of wills

How unseemly and unedifying it is when family members fight tooth and nail over a dead relative's will, disputing what it says and trying to grab a bit more money for themselves.

I see the latest family row is over the will left by Australian actor Heath Ledger. The will was written in 2003 before his partner Michelle and baby Matilda came on the scene.

Now everyone's squabbling over who should get what and how much (if any) should go to his new family. His father Kim has appealed for dignity at a time of grief.

I suppose the fewer relatives there are, and the more straightforward the will, the less trouble there's likely to be. And the more money there is at stake, and the more bizarre the will's provisions, the greater the prospect of a battle royal and insults flying thick and fast.

There are regular reports of huge sums of money being left to a pet cat or a faithful gardener or the preservation of endangered molluscs.

Relatives frequently argue that poor old Gladys wasn't of sound mind at the time and couldn't possibly have intended such absurd legacies. It was the influence of those strange pills the GP had prescribed, or the insidious charisma of some new acquaintance who wormed his way into her affections.

But at the end of the day, if that's what Gladys wanted, what right has anyone to dispute it and argue otherwise, just because they're greedy and feel cheated out of their rightful inheritance?

My family is very small, so hopefully there won't be any unsavoury quarrels when the next will gets opened. We'll just grab the money and run!!

16 comments:

Grannymar said...

Nick

Everyone should have a will. That way you ensure your wishes can be carried out. It also makes things easy for those left behind and precious items go to the person you want to have them eg watch, camera, fishing gear.

A will does not bring death closer!

Nick said...

Grannymar, you're so right. J and I made wills some time ago. Without them, disputes are much more likely. Watch, camera, fishing gear - ah yes, the really important things!!

Manuel said...

I've got nothing......so everyone is welcome to it....

Nick said...

You're too modest, Manuel, they'll all be fighting over the CD collection, the iPod, the vintage cook books, not to mention the famous name badge that says "Your waiter for tonight is MANUEL". It'll be carnage out there....

Baino said...

You're right of course but don't believe all that bunkum about Heath's family et al. it's all Paparazzi bullshit. I'm currently in the process of liquidating my father's estate amongst four of us siblings. It's been a test but I have to say, money hasn't been an arguing point BECAUSE . . his Will was water tight and his intentions absolutely clear both when he was alive and now! I've blogged about this before haven't I GrannyMar? And she is dead right. You need a Will at the very least, a Power of Enduring Attorney so that someone else doesn't flick the switch other than the person you nominate and trust and if you have a lot of money or a complex estate (blended family for instance) you need a Testimentary trust. A few Euro spent now will ensure that your bequest goes to those you choose . .is beyond contestation and doesn't go to the tax man! *steps down from soapbox* Although I might contest Jenny's right to the camera!

Wisewebwoman said...

I agree on the paparazzi spin on Heath Ledger's will, they make it sound like he cut out his partner and daughter when of course the will preceded them. What a mess. I'm sure his daughter will take precedence.
In my time I've seen some right oul brawls over wills, never the money per se but the little trinkets. The bits and bobs of someone's life. Sentimentality.
The money sorts itself out. The emotions are all entangled with the old photos and the little earrings.
Very important to be specific in a will, I agree....
XO
WWW

Nick said...

Baino - all paparazzi bullshit eh, might have guessed! I have a power of attorney for my 85 year old mum but J and I are not happy about putting money in trusts and tax-evading on a grand scale. Must track down your posts about wills etc.

www - You're right about the trinkets etc. I've seen people getting really steamed up over bits of china and old family photos. Personally I can't get very excited about such family memorabilia, I'm not at all sentimental. Just gimme the money!!

Baino said...

Nick a testamentary trust is held in a Will so your beneficiaries have control. It's not like a Public Trust. http://www.findlaw.com.au/article/8706.htm

Medbh said...

How could he have a child and not change his will? Oh that's right, he was drugged up to his gills.

Nick said...

Indeed, why did he never change his will? Surely he had a permanent lawyer who should have advised him to do just that? I know there were claims he took cocaine and marijuana but to what extent I don't know.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I have noticed that when somebody dies, most people become vultures fighting over carrion.

It's amazing how the prospect of money can adversely affect dignity.

When my mother died, I was cheated out of my inheritance but didn't fight back because I was quite numb with grief. It left a very bad taste, but my real inheritance was memories and my mother's genetic gifts to me which nobody could take away.

Los Angelista said...

Oh that's awful that they're fighting over the will. Isn't the fight over James Brown's will still going on?

On the flipside, in my dad's family there's been some flat out stealing of willed property because some relatives weren't aggressive enough to fight for what was legally theirs. Someone felt they should have gotten some land, ended up being executor of the estate and of course has now moved into the property, making it extremely awkward for everyone. In that case I think they're counting on the "dignity' of the others to not want to get down in the dirt and fight.

Nick said...

Heart - Sorry to hear you were cheated like that. But that's very dignified of you to see it the way you do and realise what is your real inheritance. Yes, genes and personality are just as important as a wad of money.

Liz - The James Brown wrangle seems to be getting worse from what I can discover, and the longer it goes on the more cash ends up with the lawyers. Sorry to hear of your own wrangles. Moving into the property is a really dirty trick - and as you say relying on people's dignity to prevent an all-out feud.

Nicole said...

Nick, even when there is a will, some people are greedy enough to contest it - they think they're entitled to your legacy. Although leaving millions to the family pet seems a bit wasteful. Really, how much can Kibbles and Bits cost these days?

I can't fathom why Heath didn't update his will except that people get "busy" and think they have time to do such things later. Irresponsible, yes, but I have friends with children who've never contemplated wills or who will care for their kids if something happens. I don't have a legal will, but I've given my mother a letter detailing what's to be done with my "kids"...i.e. my books, CDs, DVDs, and dusty old copies of Christie's Great Estates.

Nick said...

Nicole, you're right, why would a pet need millions anyway? For a deluxe gold-plated 10-acre kennel? And yes, it's very easy to postpone making (or updating) a will on the grounds that you're fit and healthy so it doesn't really matter.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Note to Liz,

We must be related. It's really a sad breach of trust when the Executor is manipulative and greedy.

But how delightful to have you for a cousin.