I had two highlights in my activities in the last week. One was when I presented a copy of my book, Vaucluse, to the Minister of Empowerment and Elder Affairs and Member of Parliament for St Thomas, the Hon Cynthia Forde. I had the opportunity to spend a little time chatting with her about her Ministry and the areas that she is responsible for and getting to know her a little better. She is truly a servant of the people.
Vaucluse was a very important plantation in the parish of St Thomas and in Barbados in the 1800s, contributing significantly to the wealth of the island, albeit through the labour of slaves. Like Ms Forde, my main character, Henry Peter Simmons, who owned the plantation between 1816 and 1843, was also a member of Parliament and represented St Philip, where he lived at the time, for two terms. However, a John Alleyne Simmons represented St Thomas in the House of Assembly in 1857-58 and 1858-59 who I believe to be his son, so I have to investigate further to confirm that.
Interestingly, Henry Peter Simmons was an anti-abolitionist and wrote in one of his letters to the Prime Minister of England that “the slave is not yet fitted to his freedom” and yet in his will he left Vaucluse, his property in Canada and in England to his “two natural coloured and reputed sons” and to their heirs.
He also made various provisions in his will for others. These included an annuity of £10 to his servant Elizabeth Jane Bazwell, an annuity of £50 to his “natural coloured and reputed daughter” Mary Ann Baber and an annuity of £400 to his “friend” Isabella Young who was living at Vaucluse at the time but was married to an Edward Young in England. I won’t go into any speculation about their relationship here as it may be the subject of one of my future books.
Henry Peter’s will brings me to my other highlight for the week which was the free “Wills and Estate Planning” seminar I attended that was hosted by my church. Since I have a will, I was able to share my experience of having my own will prepared and also of being an executrix on two wills with the attendees before turning over to the legal experts in our community.
For some reason, many people do not have wills, as if they think that writing a will means they will die soon or sometimes they are just too busy and keep putting it off thinking that they will get around to it. My husband and I had our first wills prepared several years ago, but we made new wills in 2011 since a number of things had changed. That was one of my points – your will should not be a static document. You should revoke it and create a new one if something changes in your life.
An example may be if you had a will while you were in one marriage and then you remarry and do not change that will. I understand that under the law the first will becomes null and void, but if the second spouse is not aware of that and does not contest the first will, they may lose their claim to the estate, I believe. Let me add this disclaimer that I am not a lawyer so please seek the advice of a legal professional.
Another important aspect of the will is the selection of an executor or executors. A point made in the seminar was to ensure that the executor/executrix is not a peer. In other words, you want to choose someone who is likely to outlive you. Henry Peter Simmons seemed to be aware of that since he chose his sons as executors of his will. Your executor must also be someone you trust to distribute your estate in accordance with your wishes.
If you have minor children, you should appoint a guardian or a trustee to handle their inheritance and look after them until they are of age in case you and your spouse/partner die at the same time. Once again, that needs to be someone you trust implicitly and who is able both physically and mentally to take care of your children. You also should have the consent of the person that you name as guardian for obvious reasons.
As I said, you need to review your will from time to time. On reading through my will again after the seminar, I realised that my daughter is no longer a minor, and while my son still is, I’m not sure I want to keep the same guardian that I had named now that he is older and his needs are different. So there are issues like that to consider.
I am sure you have heard the horror stories about people dying intestate (without a will) and then their children and siblings fight over the estate. There is nothing that will bring out disagreements and disputes faster than money, especially if the estate has considerable worth.
A great tip that one of the attendees, an insurance executive, suggested is that insurance policies could be assigned to a named beneficiary rather than the estate. That gets money into the hands of the beneficiary fairly quickly, on presentation of the death certificate, rather than having to wait until the will is probated. It can also be very helpful if money is needed for the funeral expenses. I believe the person even said that if you present the invoice from the funeral home to the insurance company, they will pay it directly and deduct the money from the sum to be paid out.I cannot go into all the other aspects of wills and estate planning here, but I want to encourage you to get prepared so that you do not leave your loved ones not only dealing with grief, but battling over your estate. If you would be interested in attending a seminar like this, drop me an email and let me know so that we can help you get prepared.
Donna Every is an author, international speaker and trainer. She was the Barbados Ambassador for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (2014-2016) and is the Barbados Facilitator for the WINC Acceleration Program. She has just released her eleventh book, Vaucluse, which is available on all Amazon stores or contact her to order your copy.
Contact her at [email protected]