Woman endures year-long wait for husband's estate, forced to take flatmates after truck accident

Amanda Wilton-Skinner's Ben died unexpectedly in a truck accident. She is urging young Kiwis to plan for the unexpected and get a will in-place.
Amanda Wilton-Skinner's Ben died unexpectedly in a truck accident. She is urging young Kiwis to plan for the unexpected and get a will in-place. Photo credit: Supplied.

After a year of stress and bills while she waited for her husband's estate to go through the courts, a Palmerston North woman is urging Kiwis to put a will in-place.

In August 2008, Amanda Wilton-Skinner's husband Ben and a colleague were driving home after completing a kitchen installation. A truck towing a trailer crossed the centre line hitting them and although his passenger survived with no injuries, Ben died.

"It was a total freak accident: Ben and I had been together for six-and-a-half years, but had only been married a few months," Wilton-Skinner explained.

Although they had no children, the couple owned a house. They had a life insurance policy with their bank which covered half of the mortgage. In their 30's, thinking they had a long future together, they had no will.

After Ben's sudden death, his estate took a year to go through the courts while they made sure there were no children entitled to make a claim.

Funds, including the life insurance policy owned by Ben, were frozen. Despite her immense shock and grief, Amanda was forced to take sole responsibility for funeral, mortgage and legal costs.

"During that time, there was huge pressure trying to function and get up in the morning, let alone think about how I was going to pay the mortgage and day-to-day expenses," she said.

Thankfully, Ben's employer picked up the tab for funeral costs and the bank allowed the mortgage payments to be changed to interest-only.

"Ben's individual bank accounts were locked until probate was completed. I had to get flatmates in to keep up with our joint financial commitments and stay in our home," she added.

She was grateful that her mother, who worked for a lawyer at the time, could assist with probate and letters of administration, saving her money.

Having recently remarried, Amanda's life has since moved forward. Although death is a hard and emotional topic for couples to discuss, she now realises it's a reality of life.

"It's hard enough coping with the loss and the grief of losing the one that you love, let alone having the added mental stress and anguish over financial issues," she said. 

Although the 12-month wait was stressful, having spoken to people who have children from other relationships, she realises that in some situations, the wait could be longer.

"It's just a terrible situation to leave behind...it's an absolute must to have adequate life insurance and an up-to-date will." 

Anson Davies, general manager of life, health and benefits at insurance broker firm Aon, said the story highlights the need to get a will in-place and review it regularly.

"If you pass away without a will, the law is quite inflexible and adds significant expense to winding up affairs. If you're an adult and have got $15,000 or more of assets, it's the right thing to do," he said.