A life cut tragically short and two lives changed forever
Dave owned a small electrical contracting company and had around $40,000 owed to him by clients. Never one to get stressed about things, Dave had no Will or Power of Attorney in place, hadn’t lodged personal or corporate tax returns in over 2 years and hadn’t lodge a BAS (GST) return in more than 12 months.
Dave owed his father Patrick $25,000 that had been spent on renovating Dave’s house (no written agreement was in place) as well as $15,000 to suppliers and around $15,000 in GST. In addition Dave had a $242,000 mortgage.
Dave had recently met Jane on a cruise whom he had declared to family as “the love of my life”. Jane resigned her job on the cruise ship to come and live with Dave seeking work in hospitality onshore as she put it. Three weeks later on a Sunday afternoon on the local lake, Dave, with a few drinks under his belt, dived off a boat into the water and didn’t resurface. It took 12 hours to find his body.
Please let us bury our son!
Patrick and Simone, the parents, were in shock as Dave was a part of their daily life and quite simply was a joy to have as a son. They knew Dave didn’t have a will but didn’t understand what that meant for them as “default” executors of Dave’s estate. A quick call to their financial adviser (me) put them in touch with a lawyer who started the legal process.
Their first task was to bury their son. However the new girlfriend Jane, still in shock, barred their way for several days “…no, you can’t come into our home…we were going to be married!…”
Patrick and Simone were then concerned about whether they were in some sort of family court dispute. All they wanted was clothes in which to bury their son. What were Jane’s rights? Did she have a legitimate claim to his house and assets? How were they to handle this when they hadn’t even buried Dave yet? Patrick and Simone were forced to seek legal advice about family court matters only two days after they first heard of Dave’s death when they were still reeling in shock.
A day or two later Jane relented and allowed Patrick and Simone access to Dave’s clothes and he was buried gracefully with a well attended service. Jane, in genuine shock, sought counselling and left Dave’s house after a few weeks into the care of her family.
But it had only just begun…
However, the nightmare had only just begun for Patrick and Simone as they sorted through Dave’s affairs:
- Without a will to be found, a solicitor had to write to all local law firms and advertise in the media to allow all potential claimants to register an interest.
- With no will ultimately found, Patrick and Simone needed to be appointed, via Letters of Administration, to take control of their son’s estate. This meant they were legally responsible for calling in all Dave’s assets and paying his debts.
- All banks, creditors and suppliers had to be contacted and individual arrangements negotiated.
- All Dave’s business paperwork had to be found, sorted and reviewed before being given to his accountant to prepare the out of date GST and tax returns – both personal and business.
- Personal bills had to be identified and some paid quickly such as funeral expenses, electricity, gas, registration and general insurances just to keep the house and car functional.
- Superannuation funds had to be contacted and life insurance proceeds claimed.
- The house had to be cleaned up after the girlfriend left, some kitchen renovations finished and then the house rented out.
- Dave’s truck and some tools had to be sold.
With a lot of help from their financial advisor co-ordinating a raft of genuinely caring accountants, lawyers, creditors, bankers etc the issues were dealt with one by one over an 18?month period. For a while it looked like the Tax Office was going to force Patrick and Simone to sell Dave’s home at a firesale value. Luckily an excellent accountant negotiated a good outcome at the last minute.
Had any one of the creditors or banks been difficult then a horrible situation would have turned into a genuine nightmare for Patrick and Simone. As Administrators
(i.e.?executors) of Dave’s estate they were constantly worried that a new creditor would turn up or an existing creditor would turn nasty and they would somehow be dragged into a legal battle or some other fresh hell. The first 6 months were the worst.
Impact on The Parents
All of these matters dragged on for months and months. Every day Dave’s paperwork was sitting on the kitchen table – a constant reminder. Both Patrick and Simone suffered from depression and both had to seek professional counselling as their marriage came under extreme pressure. Ultimately the marriage survived as both are genuine people with deep love for each other.
The worst aspect of this entire experience was the fact that Patrick and Simone were never allowed to properly grieve for their son. They couldn’t close the book on Dave’s life. His affairs remained with them as an open wound for more than 18 months. This was Dave’s legacy. Every wonderful memory they had was tainted by the burden they carried for many years after his estate was finalised.
To this day Patrick and Simone bear the scars of the experience but have asked me to tell this story in the hope that others may be spared their pain. Patrick says “…no parent should have to bury a child, but if it must happen let it be done quickly. We barely survived the whole experience Gil; it has been the hardest thing I have ever been through…”
Patrick and Simone are now passionate advocates of Estate Planning For Life. Patrick and Simone have reminded all their friends and family to get their affairs in order so they too are prepared for unforeseen events.
They would much rather be telling the following version of the story.
Dave unfortunately died tragically but he had a valid will in place and had taken the time to prepare and maintain a document called the Information That Matters (ITM) along with another document called a Crisis Management Plan (CMP). An ITM document lists all the key information and key advisers (accountant, lawyer, banker, financial adviser, life insurance adviser etc) with their contact details.
Dave’s parents see they are the executors in the ITM record. They contact his lawyer to obtain a copy of his will. They meet with his girlfriend who reads the will. When she realises she is not named she exits gracefully.
The ITM record lists all personal assets, debts, insurances and liabilities. It also directs them to the accountant and bookkeeper who keep all Dave’s business accounts, assets, debts and insurances documented.
The CMP provides a set of questions for the parents to ask of the right people (bank manager, accountant and bookkeeper, financial adviser, insurance adviser etc).
It still takes 4 months for the estate to be processed, the tax returns to be completed and the money dealt with. However for the most part, 1 to 2 weeks of effort sees the paperwork dealt with and the house cleaned up and prepared for rental.
There is little confusion, a little bit of counselling but relatively quick closure for the parents who can put this tragedy where it belongs and rebuild their lives relatively quickly.