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A Cautionary Tale

September 21, 2010

October’s North & South magazine features a sad twist on an already tragic story. It is a twist which provides cautionary lessons for us all. 

Most New Zealanders are familiar with the story of undercover policeman Don Wilkinson who was senselessly killed in September 2008 while planting surveillance devices on a vehicle. Donna Chisholm of North & South has now brought the story of how his mother, Beverley Lawrie, has missed out on any share of Wilkinson’s estate (worth an estimated $2million). 

Wilkinson left his entire estate to his adoptive father, Ron Wilkinson, in a will made in 1985 when Wilkinson owned scant assets. It seems he never updated his will despite going on to accumulate considerable wealth. 

Under usual circumstances, Bev Lawrie would be able to mount a strong claim under the Family Protection Act. However, such a claim must be made within 12 months of when probate is granted (probate allows the assets of the deceased to be distributed in accordance with their Will).

Greater legal minds than mine have looked into the issue and have deduced that it is almost impossible to challenge a will after this time limit if the assets of the estate have already been distributed. 

One can easily imagine how in the aftermath of the loss of a loved one such issues are the last thing you would want to consider, especially in circumstances such as those surrounding Wilkinson’s death with its brutality and subsequent publicity and criminal trial. By the time you find yourself able to start turning your mind to issues of the deceased’s estate, you could well find the 12 month time limit has passed and it is all too late. 

It is difficult to imagine Wilkinson wouldn’t have wanted his mother to have received something from his sizeable estate. It seems that Ron Wilkinson hasn’t been receptive to trying to come to an equitable resolution with the family and quotes from him in North & South indicate he sees little reason to do so. 

All this leaves Bev Lawrie with little option but to go public with her story. At best, one can only hope that the pressure of the public’s response to the seemingly inequitable situation will bring Ron Wilkinson to the party. At worst, the tale may hopefully prevent similar mistakes being made by others. 

And the lessons in this story for us all?  Make a will. Seemingly a trite thing to say but you’d be surprised at the number of adults I meet, many of them property owning and with children, who don’t have wills. Once you have a will, don’t then forget about it – review it regularly, get legal advice to check it still meets your intentions and needs and if it doesn’t, update it. If a family member dies, don’t wait for someone to contact you about their estate – although it may feel like the last thing you wish to do, take proactive steps to promptly make enquiries. 

In much the same way as a builder’s home is usually full of building jobs to be done, I caveat all of what I am saying by noting my own lawyer has been sending me gentle reminders to review my will and sort out my Trust so the article serves as a reminder to me as well!

 Finally, I’ve been impressed with Donna Chisholm’s coverage of family law issues in North & South. Chisholm’s also written some useful articles in North & South on wills and on relationship property which are worth digging out some back issues for. The real life examples in her articles help illustrate that those scenarios that we all too often put into the “it won’t happen to me” camp may well happen to us.

If you want  help with a family law issue, go to www.familylawresults.co.nz

2 Comments
  1. The Don Wilkinson story is in the issue on sale now; the other stories referred to are in the back issues of August 2009 (relationship property) and July 2010 (death traps), which are available to purchase from magshop.co.nz.

    • thefamilylawyer permalink

      Have to say that I always appreciate the way North & South Mag covers interesting family law issues from time to time. Regards, Selina.

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