Widowed single mum left homeless
IN 2018, Stephanie and Ryan Stevens were delighted to receive the news they were going to become parents for the first time.
Shortly after, in a shocking twist of fate, Ryan lost his life in a tragic ATV bike accident.
Unfortunately, Ryan died before having the chance to prepare his will, leaving Stephanie, who was only three months pregnant, to fight a five-month-long battle with their mortgagee BankWest.
The mortgage for the couple's four-bedroom home was in Ryan's name solely.
With no valid will, Stephanie was frozen out by the bank because she did not have legal authority to deal with his affairs.
The mortgage increased significantly, accruing interest and administration fees.
Stephanie was unable to pay the monthly repayments on her own.
She had to wait for Ryan's life insurance and superannuation to be finalised to pay the mortgage.
Unfortunately, Ryan's entitlements fell short by $30,000 to pay the loan.
Stephanie's parents offered to be guarantors and make up the shortfall but BankWest rejected the offer.
The family home was repossessed and sold at a loss of $70,000.
Stephanie was left homeless.
In recent media reports, BankWest acknowledged that the level of support Stephanie experienced "fell short of her expectations during the distressing time".
The bank acted cruelly, but within its legal rights.
Without a will, when there is no person officially recognised as having the proper authority to make decisions on behalf of the estate, an application to the Court for "Letters of Administration" is required to deal with authorities such as banks.
The process of applying for Letters of Administration can take several months, or even years, if there is a blended or hostile family dynamics, or missing family members.
Despite being married, it also took five months for Stephanie to be officially recognised as the beneficiary of the estate.
This is because, without a valid will, Ryan died "intestate".
Like more than half of all Australians with no valid will, the task of dealing with his estate fell to the laws of intestacy.
Intestacy laws in each state and territory are comprehensive and vary significantly.
These laws identify who has the proper authority to make decisions on behalf of the estate, as well as who will inherit the assets.
Generally, the administrator and beneficiaries of an intestate estate will usually be the "next of kin".
In New South Wales, the whole of his or her estate will pass to the surviving spouse.
If there is no spouse, then the next in line to inherit will be children of the deceased.
In Queensland, the surviving spouse is entitled to the first $150,000, the household chattels and an equal share of the residuary estate.
The deceased's children are entitled to the remaining share of the estate in equal parts.
If there is no family then the estate could potentially be left to the Government.
The most common reasons we hear for not having a will are "I don't want to tempt fate", "I'm too young to have a will", "I don't own anything, I only have debt, so what's the point" and "I've heard that making a will is expensive".
But as we can see, the cost of preparing a will is next to nothing when compared to the turmoil and cost to your loved ones by not having one.
April Kennedy is a Wills and Estates solicitor at Attwood Marshall Lawyers. Established in 1946, the firm has offices at Robina Town Centre, Kingscliff, and The Strand Coolangatta.
For a free estate planning review, phone 1800 621 071 today.