Oran Hall | The search for legacy
ADVISORY COLUMN: PERSONAL FINANCIAL ADVISER
QUESTION: I would like to know how to find out if my deceased mother has a will in Jamaica as there is some land that I want to know if I'm entitled to. Can you point me in the right direction?
FINANCIAL ADVISER: Estate planning issues seem to occupy much of the time of my readers, with many not knowing if they are beneficiaries of the property of close family members and others being concerned about whether family members have deprived them of their legacy.
One way to know if an individual has made a will is to check at the Registrar General’s Department. It has a facility whereby a document regarding the distribution of an individual's or testator's estate after death can be registered at the Island Record Office during the person's lifetime. From the time it is deposited up to the point at which the testator dies, it is called a 'paper writing'.
Amendments can be made to the document while the individual is alive. The last paper writing made will revoke the previous ones and then becomes the 'last will and testament' upon the testator's death. For a paper writing to be registered, it should include the name of the testator; the name, address, and occupation of two witnesses; the signatures of the parties – testator and witnesses; and the date of execution.
The document becomes public when it is lodged at the Island Record Office, so any member of the public can have access to it by providing the date of the execution of the document, the testator's name, and the date the document was lodged, but the required costs must be paid.
If the will has already been probated, you can get a certified copy from the Supreme Court. The attorney-at-law who filed it can write to the deputy registrar of the Supreme Court and make the request. A beneficiary or the executor of the estate can also request a copy through the attorney-at-law. You could also get access to the probated will from the parish court in the parish where your mother lived if the value of the estate is $3 million or less.
Another source is the executor or executrix, that is, the person who legally acts as the personal representative of the deceased person. Some corporate bodies also serve as executors.
Your challenge is that you do not seem to have any idea about the estate of your late mother. How successful you can expect to be depends on the willingness of a relative or friend to provide you with the required information. Are you in touch with such a person?
It seems reasonable to expect an executor or executrix to make contact with the beneficiaries named in the will, but that can only happen in cases where the whereabouts of the beneficiary are known.
You should consider that it is also possible that your late dear mother did not make a will. Settling the estate in such a case would mean that the process of administration would have had to be done. In such a case, it is possible that you could be a beneficiary. It seems reasonable to expect that the administrator would have tried to make connect with you. Here again, it seems you will have to make some connections or reconnections.
It is useful for families to keep the lines of communication open and to remain connected, but families being families, perhaps I am being idealistic. In any case, it is useful for family members owning assets that they intend to pass on to other family members to share their plans with a few trusted persons. Perhaps I am being idealistic again.
In any case, it would be helpful for the proposed beneficiaries to have some idea that there is a legacy for them. Asking family members to share their plans for the distribution of their assets after death, though a delicate matter, should not be shunned, but it is easier to achieve this when strong relationships are maintained.
At the end of the day, though, there is no guarantee that all will go well, but that should not deter you from seeking to determine if there is land you are entitled to. The key is to find the people who may be able and willing to help. Good luck.
Oran A. Hall, principal author of The Handbook of Personal Financial Planning, offers personal financial planning advice and counsel.