Will-less Kiwis causing 'heartache and stress'

STEVE HOPKINS
Last updated 05:00 03/09/2012

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Half the population don't have a will and those that do have the document written up sometimes make unusual requests - one woman wanted to be buried in a garden bag.

Aucklanders are the worst nationwide for not having wills; according to Public Trust figures, 57 per cent of Aucklanders don't have a will.

Those living north of Auckland were the next worst for not making provisions in the event of their death, with 52 per cent not having a will, followed by those in the central North Island, 46 per cent, and the South Island, 42 per cent.

Public Trust released the figures last week ahead of Wills Month, which began on Saturday, and in the hope of encouraging Kiwis to put pen to paper to ensure their families are looked after, and their assets fairly distributed, following their death.

While nationally half the population don't have a will and testament, those aged 25-39 are the worst, with only 34 per cent having one.

Henry Stokes, managing solicitor with Public Trust, said that requests in wills range from the far-sighted to the unusual.

"One lady was very firm about the fact that, if her funeral was on a work day, she didn't want her children taking time off work to attend, as she felt that would be a shocking waste of time," Henry said.

"She also thought funerals were a waste of money and wanted to be buried in a garden bag, rather than a coffin - although we had to explain that isn't legal."

Henry said myths about wills often led to people not making them, which often resulted in legal and financial difficulties for the family involved.

One wrongly held belief was that someone's partner would automatically inherit their entire estate, Henry said.

If assets weren't jointly owned, the first $155,000 of their assets and personal chattels goes to their partner along with a third of the remaining estate. The remaining two thirds goes to the children. If there isn't any, the partner gets two thirds and any surviving parents get one third.

"We have come across situations where the husband has died first without a will and his widow has to share the estate with her own children or his parents - that is a big shock."

Alex Polaschek, Public Trust's general manager personal and business, said that people have different priorities at different stages of their lives - so it's important to update your will.

One Auckland family that knows the importance of wills is the Nicholsons.

Despite having two sisters, John Nicholson had no will when he died in April 2010 and his family was forced into a protracted legal battle with a friend of his, police dog handler John Fraser, over his entire estate.

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Three months after Nicholson's death his sister Pauline was made an administrator of his estate, but Fraser then made a Family Court claim that he had a ''fair and honest right'' to it.

The matter was finally resolved in May, just over two years after Nicholson's death, with a confidential settlement.

Nicholson's nephew, David Nicholson, said the family had to cut their losses and settle because proceedings had cost too much.

''At the end of the day no one wins,'' he said.

Nicholson's estate had only consisted of a Meadowbank house and his business, the Las Vegas Strip Club on Karangahape Rd, but not the premises.

''My advice to anyone is get a will... to go through what I've been through over the last 18 months... get a will. Take all of the heartache and stress out of it,'' he said.

''There's been a lot of collateral damage.''

- Auckland Now

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