Friday, 11 September 2009

A lover's dues

If someone you'd had a relationship with for 33 years died and left you nothing, would you feel hard done-by and sue their estate for what you thought you deserved?

Anne Mulholland did just that and was awarded £250,000 by Belfast High Court. Now she's gone into hiding because of the controversy she's stirred up.

She met sheep farmer Seamus Kane when she was 16 and he was in his early forties. A veil was drawn over the relationship because the locals disapproved of people "living in sin".

When her lover died in 2004 without a will the whole £800,000 estate passed to his siblings. She was offered only a "paltry" sum in recognition of her long-standing devotion to Mr Kane so felt compelled to take legal action.

Would I have done the same, I wonder? I suppose it would depend on how desperate I was for money, whether I could face the wrath of the relatives, whether I thought I deserved something in return for my commitment, whether my life was nearing its end anyway, and whether I had someone to support me emotionally.

It would certainly take a lot of courage to take on relatives who thought I deserved nothing and would fight me tooth-and-nail through the several years it might take to reach the courtroom. If I had nobody to lean on when the struggle got too much, I don't think I would have the nerve.

But if I'd given most of my life to someone else and wasn't equipped to earn my own living after they died, wouldn't a large bequest be only fair? Or should I just get off my arse and work out how to make a new life for myself?

I think on balance I'd prefer the dignity of shifting my arse to the embarrassment of holding out my begging bowl.

25 comments:

Grannymar said...

Jack used to say there was no luck in 'dead' money! I think he was right. How long will she last in hiding? Dead money brings cold comfort.

Leah said...

What a sad story!

I think I'd swallow my shame and pride, both, and beg.

I'm not sure what that says about me though...

Nick said...

Grannymar - Well, if the dead money helps you to survive and rebuild your life, I think it's worth having.

Leah - I suppose it says you're not too worried by other people's responses if you think the action you're taking is justified.

Cinnamon said...

Sad to hear she has had to go into hiding. She is brave indeed.

I think Wills are fascinating- I have been present at many a deathbed where the onlooking hopeful beneficiaries who have not seen each other for years and cannot hide their suppressed hatred for each other try to uphold a facade of caring about their dying relative.

Baino said...

I'd have sued too! Why should siblings benefit. If he had children, fair enough but what did they do to deserve a windfall! Good on her I say. She should move and start fresh. Won't be a problem for me, I'm spending it all before I go!

Wisewebwoman said...

What staggers me more than anything else was that this nasty old farmer did not make provision for her in his will. How on earth did they dodder along and not take care of this major lack of attention on the part of an elderly man who would more than likely predecease her?
XO
WWW

Nick said...

Cinnamon - I know, aren't funerals a wonderful study in suppressed feelings of hostility, resentment, indifference etc? And people make such strange bequests, like leaving their entire fortune to Tiddles the cat.

Baino - Very true, what exactly did his brother and sister do for him compared with her contribution? They could at least have made her a more generous offer.

www - I was wondering about that myself. She must have been aware of her weak legal position as an unmarried woman. Maybe she asked him to make a will but he never bothered, like a lot of other men.

Caro said...

He apparently always told her he'd leave her a house and a few acres. No idea why he didn't make a will - maybe he didn't want the solicitor knowing about his relationship and blabbing to the whole town? I can understand why they kept their relationship secret at the beginning, she was 16 and he was in his 40s but I don't understand why he didn't just marry her when they got older. There don't seem to have been any impediments.

I'm with Baino on this one. She looked after him for 33 years, she deserves the money more than his siblings.

kylie said...

she deserves the money. i dont know if i could deal with being so unpopular, though.
i think australian law would make provision for her

Brighid said...

I'm curious, why does she Deserve the money? Because she stayed all those years? Was she so young at the begining of the relationship that she didn't think to look to her future? We outside looking in are just guessing, and it's really only her business. I wish her well in any case.

Nick said...

Caro - Is that what he said? I've only seen that one report so far. There shouldn't have been any problem with the will if he just knew a couple of trustworthy witnesses (and a trustworthy solicitor). And maybe he was stubborn about getting married.

Kylie - If Australian law would make provision for her, that's more enlightened than NI law. I'm not sure how English law compares.

Nick said...

Brighid - I would say not because she stayed but because she had been contributing to the household in various ways - including helping to run the farm. And yes, carefree youth might have had something to do with it.

Rummuser said...

A man's take on this subject is bound to be biased. As a woman who gave up the best part of her life looking after an ancient specimen, she deserves to get the whole lot. Why should the siblings who did nothing for him while he was alive get anything at all? The law is an ass.

Nick said...

Ramana - I wouldn't say the law is an ass. The law has always been that if someone dies will-less, their estate goes to their immediate family. If someone doesn't want that to happen, it's up to them to make a will saying something different. And then again, it was the law that recognised the unfairness of the situation and awarded her £250,000.

Rummuser said...

The point is still that she had to sue to get what should have been rightfully hers.

Nick said...

Ramana - True enough. Maybe the law should stipulate that a certain percentage of the estate should automatically go to a long-standing lover or spouse?

Liz said...

I know what you mean but surely, after that time, their lives were intermingled and her share was hers by right?

Rummuser said...

The term used here, borrowed from British jurisprudence is 'Common Law Wife.' Unfotunately, while the term is in use, benefits that a wife would get, does not automatically go the CLW. We are in the process of enacting legislation here to rectify the mistake. With this historic judgment, Britain will now have a precedent which should be music to the ears of many such unfortunate women.

Nick said...

Liz - Unfortunately not, because as Ramana says she was only a "common-law wife" who isn't necessarily entitled to anything. But of course she should be.

Ramana - Indeed, as I said to Liz, she has no automatic entitlements. I'm not sure if it's a new precedent, but if it is, interestingly it's a Northern Ireland precedent only as English law is separate. NI shows the way??

tony said...

I Beg To Differ!

Nick said...

Tony - Why?

heartinsanfrancisco said...

It's just a very sad situation. Shame on Seamus for not providing for her and leaving her at the mercy of that pack of greedy relatives. I think that right is on her side, but doubt that I would have done it in her place.

Nick said...

Heart - As you say, a pack of greedy relatives who didn't want to recognise what she had done for their brother.

Jillian Livingston said...

Your post has come to my attention in a timely matter as I am trying to convince my mother to protect herself from her ailing partner.

So many emotional aspects involved but one thing is for sure, she is heading down a one way street with no way out.

Nick said...

Jillian - I'm sorry to hear your mother is in a similar situation. I hope she can do something to protect her interests. Too many people seem to take a fatalistic attitude that somehow or other everything will work out for the best. Then they come a cropper.