Occasionally, a story will break in which a person of modest means dies and a secret bequest comes to light: the person was actually a multi-millionaire and has left their fortune to charity or community organisations. But is this really fair?
The Bequest of A Fortune
Margaret Dickson lived in a modest tenement flat in Glasgow and when she died from cancer at the age of 72, the fortune she had amassed over the years shocked her family and friends.
An only child who had never married or had children of her own, she had retired in 1986 and followed the advice of a stockbroker uncle. Her frugal lifestyle meant that her accumulation of cash, shares and stocks continued to grow until they were worth over £1 million.
The fortune only came to light when her cousin, appointed as executor, saw the contents of the will. Interestingly, Miss Dickson left only £20,000 to her family members and donated the rest of her estate to charities.
A Vermont man who sometimes held his coat together with safety pins and had a long-time habit of foraging for firewood also had a hidden talent for picking stocks — a talent that became public after his death when he bequeathed $6 million to his local library and hospital.
The investments made by Ronald Read, a former gas station employee and janitor who died last June at age 92, ‘grew substantially’ over the years. Read’s entire fortune added up to around $8 million.The bequest of $4.8 million to the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and $1.2 million to the town’s Brooks Memorial Library were the largest each institution has ever received.
In 1960 he married a woman he met at the service station but she died in 1970. Stepson Phillip Brown, said he visited Read every few months, more often as Read’s health declined.
The only indication Brown had of Read’s investments was his regular reading of the Wall Street Journal.
‘I was tremendously surprised,’ Brown said of Read’s hidden wealth. ‘He was a hard worker, but I don’t think anybody had an idea that he was a multi-millionaire.’
It’s unclear as to if Read gave any of his fortune to his stepson.
In California, when Verna Oller was living at the Circle of Life retirement home in Long Beach, friends told her her coat was looking pretty ragged.
So when she died May 10, at age 98, no one had any idea of the legacy she would leave behind. Oller, through her careful investments and frugal lifestyle, left behind $4.5 million.
She donated $500,000 to a public-school endowment and another $500,000 to a foundation to be used for student scholarships and grants to teachers. The rest she left to the city of Long Beach to build an indoor swimming pool.
Oller made her money by saving and investing what she and her husband earned and from a sizable inheritance from her sister and a bequest from an uncle.
Oller worked picking cranberries, shucking oysters and filleting fish, working until she was 76. The day she quit she sold her car.
In 1979, said Stevens, 15 years after her husband’s death, Oller began investing. At first she went to a stockbroker in Astoria, but soon discovered she could manage her investments on her own.
In England, former railway worker James Redgate, who died aged 83 of leukaemia, left his wealth to the health system that cared for his beloved mother when she also battled the disease.
Now grateful bosses have been able to buy two new CT scanners with his surprise bequest.
Mr Redgate’s sister Joan – who along with other friends and family was left nothing by her millionaire brother – was a guest of honour at the unveiling of the two life-saving machines. Mr Redgate, who never married and had no children, lived with and cared for his mother in Nottingham.
A Surprise Bequest Can Lead to a Court Battle
This kind of revelation can often lead to bitter family disputes, especially when such a vast majority of the fortune is given to charity. In many of the cases above, the deceased didn’t have children, siblings, parents or other dependents who might have had a legitimate claim on the estate.
However it’s important to note that under Queensland law, family members (including children, step-children, and anyone classed as a ‘dependent’) could lodge a legitimate claim against the estate and contest the will in court. The law imposes a moral obligation upon a willmaker to provide for their immediate families in their wills, and allows such family members to contest the will in court if they’re left out of the will.
If you’d like to make a bequest to charity, do so with the full knowledge and understanding of your family and loved ones. The best way to prevent legal action over your estate is through clear communication of your wishes.
Leaving surprises like this in your will is not advisable, particularly if you have a family. It is always preferable to be clear and direct in your will so that there is a minimum of conflict after your death. As always, it is important to seek specialist advice when it comes to planning your will and estate planning.
If you have been left out of a will, you need to contact a lawyer who is an expert in wills and estates immediately. There are very tight time frames in which to exercise your rights if you have been left out of the will and if you delay you may lose your rights. There are rules relating to who can make a claim against an estate for being left out of a will.
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