In August last year, Detective Senior Constable Mark Tweeddale suddenly died while playing sport in South Hedland. This accomplished police officer, left behind a wife and two young children. His widow, Kylie Tweeddale, approached Police News to tell her story.

 

wills2If anyone was ever to ask me what I imagined for my future, I would never have dreamed that I would become a 37-year-old widow. Widows were old ladies who had enjoyed decades with their soul mates, complete with a couple of grandkids and a caravan; not young women with small children and a seemingly fit and healthy husband.

But a young widow is exactly what I became when, with no warning, an undetected heart condition caused my husband to literally fall down and die during a game of sport, at the age of just 40.

My family was plunged into turmoil with the loss of my husband, Detective Senior Constable Mark Tweeddale of the East Pilbara Detectives’ Office, in early August 2015—just one day after our daughter’s eighth birthday.

Living in South Hedland, we were a long way from our family in Perth, but after three years in the Pilbara I already had a great support network in place and I felt anything but isolated. The police community was a tremendous support, offering whatever assistance they could and making good on those offers, and I came to realise just how sincere police officers are when they refer to their colleagues as their ‘family in blue’.

WA Police arranged for us to stay in our government house so that the kids could finish the school year and WA Police Legacy offered its support, but as difficult as it was to deal with the loss of my husband emotionally, a bigger battle was brewing, and that was that Mark—our family’s sole provider—had died without a Will.

We have always known that the WA Police Union offers Members the free service of creating a Will, but at the end of the day procrastination won out. Although we held our own life insurance policy for Mark, we shamefully didn’t realise it was payable to his estate, not to me directly, and we were uneducated about what the process is when a person dies intestate. It isn’t nearly as simple as I assumed it would be.

For a start, I must now prove to a court that I am worthy of managing Mark’s affairs and the person most likely to have been named beneficiary of his estate, had he left a will. This requires applying to the Supreme Court for Letters of Administration; an expensive application that only a lawyer can prepare and, bizarrely, I have to compete against my children for the privilege. My 10-year marriage to Mark as his only lawful wife doesn’t allow me to by-pass this requirement and the process can become even more complicated for blended families and divorced couples.

I have been warned that obtaining the Letters of Administration could take six months or longer and, in the meantime, I won’t see a cent of our insurance or superannuation money—I can’t even bank WA Police’s final wage payment to Mark, since it was, by necessity, made in the form of a cheque payable to Mark’s estate. In fact, all insurance and superannuation funds, along with the ownership of vehicles registered in Mark’s name will be directed to Mark’s estate and with no will, there are no instructions about what to do with any of it and I have sadly discovered that a deceased person’s spouse does not automatically receive all of their loved one’s assets.

I have uncovered other administrative surprises; for instance, every financial account in a deceased person’s name is immediately frozen the moment a bank becomes aware of the person’s passing. Any member of the public can advise a financial institution of a death and the process is swift; it will take place whether the remaining spouse consents or not and may even happen without your knowledge. Fortunately, most of our bank accounts were in joint names, so I didn’t immediately lose access to all of our funds, but had I not been entitled to access our money, I would still have been responsible for our mortgage and car loan repayments.Wills3

I calculated how long I thought I could support my children on the money that was already in the bank and I revisit those figures every other day, certain that my funds will run out before the process of getting the Letters of Administration, finalising insurance claims and distributing the estate can take place. Without the fundraising support of the Pilbara community, I wouldn’t have made it through even the first few hurdles of this process, but with my immediate hardship alleviated by my community’s efforts, the sting of what was revealed next was devastating.

According to WA law, a deceased person’s spouse, if there is no Will, is entitled to a much, much smaller portion of the estate than anybody seems to realise. After an initial sum of $50,000 is paid to the spouse, just one third of the remaining estate is allocated to that person and the rest is left to the deceased’s children.

Suddenly I wasn’t looking at paying off the mortgage, car loan and credit cards; investing money in my children’s future and continuing to stay home with the kids to help them through the difficult time of losing their father—I would be slinking back to where I came from without enough money to free myself financially and leaving the kids in before and after school care while I made the challenging transition into becoming a single, working parent, with the lion’s share of Mark’s insurance payment frustratingly tied up in trust for the children for the next decade.

Frighteningly, I am powerless to prevent my children from receiving a massive lump sum payment of money at the inexperienced age of just 18.

The uncertainty of my financial situation; the confusion of being bound by intestacy laws that I feel are unjust; the annoyance that we thought we had protected ourselves, but ultimately had done so in an ineffective way, and the frustration that a simple document could have prevented it all, have been horrid feelings to try to process.   

Since Mark’s death, the WA Police Union has provided me with a copy of their simple Will kit and I’m stunned to see how easy they’ve made the process of creating a Will. I regret how foolish we were for failing to take advantage of this free and vital service.

I can’t stress enough, the importance of creating a Will for both you and your spouse or partner. Though I have the support of WA Police, the WA Police Union and WA Police Legacy, the fact is that I have a long administrative battle ahead of me, and at a time when I want to be calm and supportive to my children, my stress level is high, with the anxiety of dealing with an uncertain financial future.
At a time when I want to grieve for my husband and try to reconcile this dreadful event that has occurred in our lives, I am instead focussed on collating and scanning documents, poring over bank statements and, the worst part of all, just waiting for news that I know I won’t like. I really can’t say how long it will be before this is resolved, but it won’t be anytime soon, and even the earliest of enquiries has made it clear that the final outcome will not be the one Mark would have wanted, which to me, is the biggest insult of all.

To some people it might seem overwhelming or premature or morbid to think about what will happen to their possessions and loved ones after their death. The fact is, nobody knows what the future holds for them. That I would become a 37-year-old widow was completely unpredictable, but what is predictable is that if you die without a Will, you leave your loved ones with a long, expensive and stressful fight on their hands and your intentions will probably not be honoured.

What is predictable is that if you utilise the Union’s free service to create your Will, you leave a simpler legacy, allowing your loved ones to grieve for you properly instead of swimming in a sea of emails, applications, expense and confusion.

Please contact the WA Police Union to utilise this service. If you can clarify in your own mind how you want things to be handled after your death, then it really is as simple as completing and returning a form. For the peace of mind it will bring you, and for the secure position you will leave your family in if you do pass away, it is certainly worth taking the time to do it.


The Pilbara community have rallied together and fundraised for the Tweeddale family. A GoFundMe page has been established to collect donations at: www.gofundme.com/5p2tnyu4