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Saturday, November 23, 2013

A friend says she was promised items from the estate, but the will doesn't agree


What happens when a friend of the deceased appears and says that she is supposed to inherit items, but the will doesn't say so? Should you give the person something from the estate, or not? A reader recently found himself in this position and wrote to me to talk about it. His question and my response are below:

"My mum passed away recently and I am the sole beneficiary and executor of the will. My question is, Mum had a friend who since the funeral has been hounding me saying that your Mother promised me this and that.... and I'm not talking about a couple of items, she lists of jewelery, clothes, furniture, ornaments, etc,etc. In all the discussions I had with Mum she never mentioned any of this stuff, but this friend swears that this was your "mums wishes" My question is, Do I have to give her anything? and what, if any are her legal grounds for demanding the items?"

Legally, your mother's wishes are as stated in her will. It seems unlikely that your mother would have had several discussions with you and made a will naming you, and never mention wanting to leave anything to this friend. Has she produced anything that might substantiate her claim that she is supposed to be a beneficiary? Make sure that you've looked carefully through your mother's papers to see whether she left any kind of codicil, memorandum, or list leaving certain items to this friend.

Unless you find something like that, which as I said seems unlikely, the friend has no legal ground to stand on whatsoever. She can state as many times as she wants that she knew your mother's wishes, but the law says that the will sets out your mother's wishes.  Check the wording of the will carefully to see whether it says anything such as giving her personal items to you to distribute as you see fit, as opposed to giving them to you for your own use. Wills really vary widely in how they deal with personal items so there may be no mention at all.

Assuming that the only document you have to go on is the will, all of your mother's items will now belong to you. If you want to give something to this friend yourself, you may do so. It seems to me that your choice will depend on how you perceive this friend's demands. If the friend seems genuinely to want some memento of your mother for sentimental reasons, you may want to honour that. Perhaps she is just  not very good at communicating her desire to have something to remember your mother. On the other hand, you may perceive this friend as simply trying to get something for free. This friend certainly wouldn't be the first to emerge from the woodwork looking for material gain, nor will she be the last.

You are wearing two hats in this situation. One is the executor's hat and the other is that of the beneficiary. As the executor, you cannot give any of the estate to this friend. As a beneficiary, once you inherit the estate, you can give away parts of it if you so desire.

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