A will to ease the burden

Opinion piece 
By Public Trust’s General Counsel – Retail, Henry Stokes.

01 March, 2018

Fairfax journalist Susan Edmunds recently wrote a story on the unfortunate case of Mr Thomas Brugman who passed away in July last year and whose embalmed body has been lying in a funeral home in Dargaville all this time.

Attempts to find Mr Brugman’s next of kin have been unsuccessful, which has led to a situation where no obvious candidate is available to take responsibility for his funeral or the handling of his estate.  Steps are now underway, however, for this to be resolved.

Understandably so, the funeral home holding Mr Brugman’s body was reluctant to make any decisions for fear they may not be in accordance with the wishes of any of Mr Brugman’s relatives who might come forward at a later date.

While the case is a tricky one, it is still relatively uncommon for no next of kin to be found, particularly in such an interconnected world.

What this situation does show, however, is just how important it is to have your affairs in order.   

Fifty-five percent of the New Zealand adult population do not have a will, which is an important document no matter what your situation may be, but even more so if you have no direct family members.  

In such situations, having a will to make your wishes known will go a long way in assisting the funeral home with facilitating burial or cremation, as well as settling your estate through an appropriate executor.

Research carried out by Public Trust shows people often avoid getting a will because they believe the process will be time-consuming and complicated.

Neither need be the case, what with professional organisations existing specifically to facilitate the preparation and execution of wills.

What is likely to churn up time and create complications, though, is what will happen if you die without having prepared a will.

Your family will be left guessing and likely second-guessing about what you may have wished for your funeral and your assets. The latter can be particularly problematic, and result in confusion, compromise and, sadly, conflict.  

Resolving the affairs of those who die without a will can be a drawn-out, costly process, with even the most functional families feeling the stress and being left with resentment.

Also, once the law steps in to settle the estate, many families are shocked by who actually ends up being entitled to what.

Such scenarios await many families of the more than 1.5 million New Zealand adults who do not have a will.

Public Trust’s research also revealed that we often only start thinking seriously about wills after life-changing circumstances, such as the death of a family member, the birth of a child, the purchase of a significant asset, or a change in health status.

This is understandable and encouraging. Ideally, however, the preparation and regular updating of a will should be seen as something fundamental to our lives; something as important as arranging insurance, budgeting or planning for retirement.

Getting a will means taking responsibility for the circumstances that have evolved and the things we have accumulated throughout our life.  

It’s probably not the most exciting purchase we’ll ever make compared to, say, an iPhone or a ticket to Tahiti, but organising  a will is one of the best things we can do for our family who will be left dealing with enough as it is when we’re gone.

What is clear from the case with Mr Brugman is that a will has an importance that extends beyond your immediate family. Having a will and your affairs in order makes it much easier for everyone involved in laying you to rest and settling your estate.


Need a will?

Find out more

Contact: Ian Letham, Content & Communications Consultant

Phone: 09 985 6812