It's not about money: how my sister's death made me realise the importance of wills

At least 45 per cent of Australians do not have a valid will. And dealing with everyday matters – like bank accounts – when no will exists, can cause serious emotional stress. That's why this sister is calling on everyone to consider making a will - no matter how old they are.

Emma Coyne and Kate

Emma holding her younger sister Kate. Source: Supplied

Content warning: contains reference to suicide 

My baby sister Kate took her own life early this year. “Kate’s gone,” my father broke the news to me on the phone on a Saturday morning. I just repeated “What, what, what,” over and over. I was in shock.  

At 37, Kate died suddenly and without a will.  As her sister, my family agreed for me to take care of Kate’s pending businesses. Four months on and I have not moved anywhere due to the absence of a will. 

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My sister Kate was just under four years younger than me.  She was born three months premature.  I still remember my mum’s wedding ring fitting over her tiny little hand while she was in the humidcrib.  I don’t remember understanding why she was there but I did get to wear a special space suit when we went to see her in hospital.  Really my space suit was just a child sized hospital gown.

Emma Coyne
Emma with newborn Kate. Source: Supplied


Kate worked as a flight attendant and had been stood down as the coronavirus pandemic crippled the airline industry.  Prior to that she had spent about 10 years travelling all over the world, much of it working as crew on private motor yachts. She saw and did many things that I’ve never been brave enough to do. I admired this adventurous spirit of Kate.

Kate and I were like chalk and cheese.  She was a traveller and I’m more of a homebody. I feel more comfortable demonstrating love and affection for people through actions but Kate would tell them.  We got used to hearing from Kate pretty intermittently, as her travels allowed.  She talked of chefs’ tantrums in kitchens and once having a saucepan thrown at her head by one particularly cranky chef and the amount of polishing that crew did on the yachts.  It wasn’t all glamour and celebrities.  She made the best potato salad ever and no matter how many times she told me how she did it, I’ve never been able to recreate it.

Kate
Source: Supplied


Given Kate died during the pandemic, I had to quarantine for two weeks when I arrived home in Perth from Hobart. I was, however, permitted to leave the house to attend to funeral related matters. My dad was devastated, we all were, but I wanted to shield him from making any decisions regarding the funeral. Music, photos, burial or cremation, coffin, outfit, eulogies. It was torture. And you have to do things you’d never considered.

Once I’d locked in all the funeral arrangements, I decided to get started on her personal affairs. I wanted to tackle everything before I had to come back to my life in Hobart. I dug out all her paperwork and started making piles on the formal dining room table: somewhere I could lay everything out and manage things one at a time out of earshot of my dad.

My first calls were to her psychologist, dentist, GP – the “easy” calls. Then I moved on to banks. This was the stage I realised that next of kin and a certificate from the coroner meant nothing. Kate was always financially savvy and had a few bank accounts. Every bank asked if I was the executor and I advised there was no will. Some agreed to put a note on the account and freeze it from outgoing transactions but would not let me make any changes or enquiries on the accounts. It was the day after we paid for 50 per cent of the funeral that one of the banks told me that we could use the funds in Kate’s accounts to pay for the funeral. I then felt even more guilt about making the “easy” calls first and being a day late to find out this information. It’s very much a “learn on the job” situation.

I’ll never see my sister again and every hurdle is a reminder of this.
Then I tried to cancel the insurance on her car as it had been sold. Again, there was absolutely no ability to change or cancel the policy without a copy of the will or letters of administration. There is still an insurance policy on a car that Kate no longer owns. It boggles my mind.

I decided a change of tack and contacted a probate lawyer who gave me a brief outline of the process. Because Kate had died intestate (meaning without a will), the law decides who the beneficiaries of her estate are. As Kate was unmarried (and not in a defacto relationship), her surviving parents and sibling would be the sole beneficiaries. This differs depending on your personal circumstances.

My dad, my uncle -as power of attorney for my mum who has a form of dementia - and myself agreed that I would be the most appropriate person to administer Kate’s estate. “Excellent! I should have this wrapped up in no time” I thought. There were forms and affidavits to complete and fees to pay. The court wanted an estimation of the balances of Kate’s bank accounts. “Just check her bank statements” I was told. I don’t know about you but I haven’t received a hard copy bank statement for at least five years. And of course, the banks wouldn’t provide me with the balances of her accounts. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Regardless of how you lose a loved one, the grief is overwhelming.
So, at the end of August 2020 our application was submitted. We had hoped that due to not knowing the exact value of the estate, the court may grant a “conditional” approval so that I could gather the outstanding information. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. On 16 October 2020 I was advised that “the court has declined to dispense with the requirement for surety guarantees for your mother as a beneficiary not of full capacity, because the full value of your sister’s estate is not yet known and because your mother also resides outside of WA”.

Essentially, they said no. To satisfy the court, I need to find two guarantors, who reside in Western Australia, to provide a guarantee of nearly $100,000 each. This is basically the same as having a guarantor for a mortgage and is to ensure my mum receives her share of the estate. Since we don’t know the value of the estate I don’t know where this figure has come from and would be the case regardless of who the administrator was. I obviously can’t guarantee myself, and my mum and her family reside in Tasmania. I’ve known this information for a week but haven’t told my dad because I know the effect it will have on him.

Kate
One of the recent photos of Kate. Source: Supplied


We are still very early on in our grief and navigating this process is confusing, frustrating, hurtful and expensive. The process is incredibly drawn out and seemingly illogical. I feel overwhelmed with guilt whenever I need to share yet another complication with my dad. It’s a constant uphill battle when you’re running on fumes. I’ll never see my sister again and every hurdle is a reminder of this.

I may be a beneficiary of Kate’s estate but my motivation to take care of Kate’s pending business is about enabling my family and myself to grieve. I just want to be able to stop Kate’s mails going to my dad every day reminding him that one of his girls has gone.

Although we lost Kate under these circumstances it is important to note that is not the reason for my newfound passion regarding wills. It has been another complication added to an already traumatic experience. Regardless of how you lose a loved one, the grief is overwhelming.

I encourage people to consider making a will. It doesn’t matter how you should pass, what assets you possess, whether you have children or any of your personal circumstances. If you are over 18, you should have a will. It means that you nominate people to action your affairs and wishes.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact  on 13 11 14,  on 1300 659 467 and  on 1800 55 1800 (up to age 25).  


More information about mental health is available at .


Emma Coyne has created a page on Instagram,  – to encourage people to write a will.




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8 min read
Published 2 November 2020 at 6:26am
By Emma Coyne