We have discussed Mutual Wills in an earlier post. It is where two or more people make Wills and agree that they are not to be revoked by either without notice to the other – the Will is the evidence of the agreement.
Mike & Charmaine had been married for over 25 years, had no children, but shared a love of animals owning dogs, cats, geese, and 120 sheep. In 2011, Mike instructed his lawyer to draft a will leaving $50,000 to ensure the animals were cared for after his death.
It was a provision of this Will that none of the animals are to be put down or slaughtered; his dogs were not to be separated, and the geese were to be donated to a wildlife reserve.
The balance of the estate was to be distributed to the World Wildlife Fund, Red Cross, World Vision and Salvation Army.
Mike Smith was diagnosed with cancer at the end of 2012 and given a year to live. His wife Charmaine suffered from a debilitating lung condition most of her life.
Tricia Phillips, met Mike and Charmaine in 2001, they developed a close friendship and she would house-sit the couples Ashburton property while they travelled overseas, taking time off work to care for the animals. In 2013 due to their declining health the couple bought a property near Christchurch to be closer to medical treatment.
Tricia was asked by Mike and Charmaine to move into a separate flat on their Ashburton property, to care for the animals and the couple as their health deteriorated. Charmaine died in May 2014.
Shortly after Charmaine’s death Mike met Corrine Hanna. In February 2015 Mike bought a property, which Corrine’s parents moved into. The following month Mike and Corrine were married.
Tricia claimed that Mike promised to leave her the Ashburton property and its contents as a home for her, and the pets.
In April, 2015 Mike met with his lawyer and had a new Will drafted, his new Will named Corrine as the sole beneficiary; family and friends would inherit his estate if Corrine predeceased him and It made no mention of animals or charities. Six weeks after signing the new will Mike died, aged 53.
After Mike’s funeral Corrine told Tricia that under the terms of the will, the Ashburton property would only have gone to her if Corrine had died first. Corrine and Mike’s father Ross were appointed as executors .The estate was valued at $2.33m
Tricia claims the executors, organised for the sheep and other animals to be sent to various new homes. The Ashburton property was being leased and it’s contents cleared.The estate does not accept that there was any testamentary promises made to Tricia, evicted her from the Christchurch property and put it up for Sale.
Tricia has instructed lawyers to see if she has grounds to contest the will. Tricia isn’t motivated by monetary gain she is motivated by Charmaine’s memory. Tricia claims Charmaine told her that their fortune was to go to charity and animal organisations,
“She trusted Mike to do what they had decided. She would be absolutely horrified and devastated.”
Charmaine & Mike could have made Mutual Wills, in this way Charmaine’s wishes could be met. However there is no evidence that Mike did not have the capacity to make his final Will and he had every right to leave his estate the way that he chose. It’s important to not only make a Will but to discuss your testamentary wishes with loved ones so that they can be carried out.