Money: Where is the Will?

Funerals are expensive things. So are solicitors, gravestones, burial plots, cremation vases and wreaths. Money will be haemorrhaging out of your bank account and you will be too distracted to keep an eye on where it is going.

Many women leave all the financial aspects of the marriage to their husband, so it comes as a great shock to them when they have to sit down and go through all of the household bills and financial affairs.

It pays to be methodical. If you cannot think straight then find someone you trust to sit with you whilst you sort through all the documents that need to be looked at. But be warned – if your husband was a secretive man then you may find something that you didn’t bargain for.

I have a friend who had to go through his father’s chest of drawers in the garage because he didn’t want his mother to discover the secret stash of porn that was hidden there. Even though he knew of the magazines existence, he was a little surprised at their content – in particular, one volume rather charmingly titled ‘Knotty’, which on closer inspection detailed various couple’s fascination with being bound up with household string.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that you will find anything quite so bizarre, but if you had any suspicions about your husband then it might be wise to brace yourself just in case. And if you do find anything in your husband’s personal belongings that point to secret indiscretions, then feel free to shout at his ashes or get up in the night, drive to the cemetery and jump up and down on his grave. He can’t feel it – and if it makes you feel better then all well and good.

When you decide to begin sorting out your husband’s financial affairs, the first and most important document that you must find is his will. If you had joint wills then you will know what’s written in them. If he made his own will then you will need to know who are his beneficiaries. Don’t worry if he didn’t make a will because when a man dies intestate, and leaves less than £125,000, then his estate is automatically forfeited to his lawful wife. Things get complicated if his estate is valued at over £125,000, and even more so if he left over £220,000 – in this case parents, brothers and sisters are liable to become potential beneficiaries. Under these circumstances it would be prudent to consult a probate specialist, in order to ascertain exactly what may be due to you.

The law is rather harsher if you were not married. As his common-law wife you have a duty prove to a court that you have a morally justifiable claim on your partner’s estate, before the judge will grant you a share of his assets.

I will not go into that particular scenario any further because I am not qualified to do so, but if you need free information on matters of law, then you can visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, your local library or any independent advice centre bearing the Community Legal Service Logo. Any reputable solicitor will be able to advise you fully on your rights, but obviously they will charge you for the privilege. If you are unsure of which solicitor to choose, you can call The Law Society on 0870 606 6575 or visit http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/ and they will help you to find a reputable solicitor in your area.

Legal advice is expensive, but unless you are willing to put yourself through the trauma of undertaking a painstaking and complicated trial by paper, you will have to employ a solicitor to do it for you. Having been given the will, your solicitor will then ask you to provide documentation regarding all of your husband’s assets, including such things as tax returns, savings, pension etc. It is vital that you can produce everything that is required, as no money from the estate will be released to you until every penny is accounted for. This process is called a grant of probate, and it may take a while to obtain – especially if your husband had outstanding debts that you were unaware of. The bank will freeze your husband’s account and put a block on any credit cards in your name that draw from that account. The only funds that can be legally drawn from a frozen bank account are those needed to pay for funeral expenses.

The freezing of accounts does not apply to any held in joint names, so if you did share a savings account or bank account then you will be free to draw out funds as normal.