My neighbour intended to make a Will but then….

This Coronavirus is causing quite a few headaches – even for those who are not infected.
Young people don’t have Will-making high on their list of priorities. They’ll obviously get round to it later on. But then the Coronavirus strikes and within a couple of weeks they have passed away and of the 10,000 unfortunate souls who have succumbed to this disease it’s highly likely that very many will have died before they had made a Will. They die intestate.
A statutory “family tree” takes care of the distribution of the deceased’s estate, with precise variations depending on whether there was a surviving spouse and/or children. It works as a reasonable safety net, but most people prefer to make their own decisions, and occasionally include bequests or legacies to family, friends, and preferred charities.
But there is an unexpected further complication. Without a Will there are no named executors – so who is going to do the work? The family tree covers that as well. But sometimes the required relations either cannot be found or do not even exist.
Our office is dealing with one such case. A lady in her 60s was believed to have died in her “right-to-buy” former council home. A neighbour alerted our office, but the deceased was not an established client at our office. We had no Will. Enquiries with other Solicitors said the same.
She was believed to be intestate. Her body was removed but on departure the front door was slammed shut – and no one had any keys. Enquiries revealed that she had been married but divorced many, many years ago. She had never had any children. Her parents had already died and she had no brothers or sisters. We were getting near the fringes of the “family tree”. Enquiries with the ex-husband suggested there may be distant nephews living in France, but no one knew where.
Our office had to make some decisions. We contacted a locksmith who gained entry and found the keys. Two of our staff members attended at her home and photographed the contents for our own protection. Then we instructed a lady from a highly professional local House Clearance company to clear the house. This lady is an expert at keeping family photos safe, and identifying important documents which might be clues as to the existence of assets, such as policies, accounts, bonds etc. While that was going on, our office contacted Finders International, one of the reputable Genealogists. They asked if the deceased had anything like a Christmas card list, or address book. Yes, these had been found as well as probate papers for the deceased’s parents which were found during the house clearance. These documents were key items in helping Finders help trace family members. Finders later contacted us to say the British Consul in Germany (nb, not France) wanted a copy of the deceased’s Death Certificate.
All this has been going on while our “virtual” office is in lock-down because of Covid 19. If the lady had left a Will it would probably have included an executor, and beneficiaries. This particular case is still on-going, so it remains a possibility that the only beneficiaries are not sufficiently closely related to the deceased to be entitled. In that case, in theory, the estate should go to Her Majesty as “Bona Vacantia”, but our office has had experience of just a case, in which the Treasury Solicitor agreed, as a concession, that if we knew of someone who the deceased might have wanted to benefit we could distribute the (admittedly modest) estate to them.
Far better – contact our office as we have the facilities to deal with urgent (“while you wait”) Wills and can sign on behalf of a testator who cannot do so himself , but only for physical not mental capacity reasons. We are familiar with how to overcome the technicalities of witnessing when several persons meeting together in the same room would certainly infringe the self-isolation rules.

For more advice about Bona Vacantia and intestacy, and making Wills please contact John Pulham at:-
Messrs Pulham & Co
Egmere House,
Market Place,
Saxmundham,
IP17 1AG
Telephone (01728) 602084 or e-mail jsp@pulham.co.uk