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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Is your ancestor Lizzie Ryan from Westmeath? You could inherit $788,000

A woman named Kathleen Hilda Ryan, aged 83, recently died in the UK, leaving an estate of $788,000 USD (about 500,000 UK pounds). Mrs. Ryan's death has caused quite a fuss because she died leaving no will, and no living relatives that anyone knows of. However, Mrs. Ryan had an aunt, Lizzie Ryan, who its believed may have emigrated to New York many years ago. The search is on for Lizzie Ryan's family, as they would be entitled to inherit Kathleen Ryan's estate. There is a story about it in that you can read by clicking here.

This isn't as rare as you might think. My mother inherited a very small amount of money from a deceased relative in England. I still don't really know how that person was related to us or why she didn't leave a will, but I do know that an awful lot of time, effort, and money was spent tracking down relatives in other countries.

Perhaps a person with no living relatives isn't really sure what to do about his or her estate, and can't really think of why they'd want to make a will. Some may even be under the impression that the government will automatically claim the estate, though this won't happen unless extensive searching reveals that absolutely no relatives at all can be found.

An excellent idea for those who don't have to worry about looking after a spouse or children is to think of a charity, university, or non-profit group that would be thrilled to receive a financial boost. A teacher might want to set up a scholarship for deserving students. An animal-lover might want to donate to shelters. Someone who lost a loved one to a particular disease might want to contribute to research to help combat that disease. On a local level, there are women's shelters, libraries, museums, food banks, children's hospitals, addictions centres, and many other worthy places. In addition, there are numerous groups who help across the globe to relieve poverty and suffering.

A client of mine whose estate is in the multi-millions of dollars decided to leave a huge amount of money to public libraries and children's literacy programs. He based his decision on the fact that he hadn't learned to read properly when he was young, and felt that had been a severe disadvantage during his lifetime. Charitable gifts such as this one can be very personal thank-yous.

For ideas about groups or causes, check out the Canadian Donor's Guide.

Alternatively, a person with no relatives may wish to leave some of all of his or her estate to a close friend whose own later years could be made more comfortable by some additional cash.

If you want a charity or friend to receive a gift, it's essential to make a will. No money will go where you want it to go if there isn't a will. It's definitely worth a conversation with an estate-planning lawyer to decide what to do with your estate when there is no obvious beneficiary. You could end up doing something that makes you feel wonderful about your contribution to others, and you could avoid a search like the one going on for Lizzie Ryan's family.


  1. Why are friends listed last here?

    Unless you have billions and have to make up things to give to, don't give to institutions or churches… give to PEOPLE!!!

    Kind people. Generous people, even when they don't have much. People who could use a boost. The guy that always clears your walk. Your cleaning lady that tidies your home. PEOPLE!!! They will remember you forever.

    Institutions will eat your money up in bureaucracy. Don't get me going. Is there not one person in your life who's truly kind and could use some money? Not one?

    I'm single, no kids and have a will. Kind friends that I love, including my webmaster will be getting some.

    I did choose not to tell them though -- gives me flexibility over time.

    Just my passionate two cents...

    1. A passionate two cents worth is always welcome here. Giving to friends - and, as you say, to other kind people - is a wonderful idea. So is leaving something to long-time employees, which I didn't mention in my original post.



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