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A cautionary tale of a widow who mistakenly assumed that marriage would protect her financially

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As Alex Delaney watched her new husband on her perfect wedding day under a hot Italian sun, nothing could be further off her mind than things like money, mortgages and wills.

“We had a great relationship, but we didn’t go into those really important milestones and conversations. It wasn’t that money in itself was taboo, my husband just didn’t want to dwell on it too much,” explains Alex.

That was in 2011. Just seven years later, Alex was widowed — at the shockingly young age of 34 — and experienced firsthand the heartbreaking consequences of a partner’s passing without making a will.

Not only did she lose her husband Nic, she also lost her house. “I assumed I would be protected in the eyes of the law because I was married. That was not the case.’

Alex Delaney (pictured) was widowed at the age of 36 after losing her husband Nic. In settling his affairs, she found a private loan agreement for their flat, in which she was expected to pay his father £250,000 in the event of Nic’s death or divorce

This devastating series of events led her to found Lemons.life, a simple online will-writing service to help other busy women avoid problems of their own. Alex was 24 and working in charity communications when she met Nic Infante, a 29-year-old software developer, through a dating app.

He was a loving friend and they moved in together after a year and bought their first home in 2011, a two bedroom flat in Hackney, north east London.

Or rather Nic, earning more, bought it, with help from his father Neri. Alex paid Nic rent every month. “I thought, ‘I’m the live-in girlfriend. Hopefully this relationship will go far, but I don’t know if it will.” I contributed to the mortgage. It wasn’t like I expected someone to pay for me.”

They married two years later in Tuscany. Alex still didn’t have her name on the mortgage, but assumed the marriage would protect her. “Every time I brought it up, Nic said, ‘Don’t worry.’ So I just skimmed over the finer details.”

After having trouble conceiving, they started fertility treatment in 2017. They talked vaguely about making a will, but never got around to it.

Then disaster struck. On January 7, 2018, after coming home from visiting Nic’s father Neri and his stepmother, Nic suddenly became breathless. “I’d nagged him to clean out a closet, but when he leaned over, he collapsed.” Alex called an ambulance and Nic was taken to the hospital.

During a family gathering it turned out that Nic's father (in the photo with Alex) wanted to get the money back.  Since the mortgage was in Nic's name and she couldn't afford to get the same deal with her own salary, she would have to sell the property to pay him back.

During a family gathering it turned out that Nic’s father (in the photo with Alex) wanted to get the money back. Since the mortgage was in Nic’s name and she couldn’t afford to get the same deal with her own salary, she would have to sell the property to pay him back.

After Nic's death, Alex realized he didn't have a life insurance policy, but an occupational pension that his mother was the beneficiary of

After Nic’s death, Alex realized he didn’t have a life insurance policy, but an occupational pension that his mother was the beneficiary of

She watched as Nic was wheeled to the emergency room on a stretcher. Alex was clearly very concerned, but assumed she would soon be at his bedside. But it was the last time she saw him alive. Within 45 minutes, at age 39, he had died of a pulmonary embolism — a blood clot that had traveled from his leg to his lungs. “I hadn’t even had a chance to say goodbye.”

Since Nic died without a will, Alex had to apply for the grant of letters of trust that would allow her to start an estate to settle his estate. And worse would come. When Alex and her father started to manage Nic’s affairs, she found a private loan agreement between Nic and his father for the money used to buy the flat.

It said £250,000 would have to be repaid in the event of Nic’s death or divorce.

Alex was shocked. “I had no idea the money was a loan. Looking back, I never asked on what basis Nic got the money. I was incredibly stupid. I was almost remiss about my own future because I just went, “Ah, I’m married and it’s all beautiful.” And yet I’m a feisty, feminist type.

During a family gathering it turned out that Nic’s father wanted the money back. Since the mortgage was in Nic’s name and she couldn’t afford to get the same deal on her own salary, she had to sell the property to pay it back.

Her father negotiated on her behalf and Neri agreed to reduce the loan by a fifth. Alex moved out of the flat a year later, paid off the mortgage, and returned the money to Neri.

Nick didn’t have his own life insurance policy – “I thought so” – but he had an occupational pension that he had started when he first started his career. “His mother was actually the written beneficiary of that policy, but the trustees made the decision that because he was married but never informed the beneficiary, it could be split between us.

“I’ve always been very close to Nic’s mother, but it was an awkward conversation. I explained that I needed the money to survive in London and we arrived at an accommodation that felt comfortable for both of us.’ This allowed Alex to buy a flat near her original home.

Today, Alex is a woman on a mission to change the way we talk about money. “We are so illiterate on this subject. If you live with a partner and are not married or have a registered partnership, you need a will, because without a will your partner may not get what you intended.’

When she met other widows, she found that because they lived with their deceased partner—in other words, they weren’t married—sometimes the spouse’s family took over the funeral decisions. “It can be very difficult, because the mother makes the choice because she is close family, and the partner is left feeling sad and isolated.”

Before his death, Nic had given Alex legal permission to use the embryos they had frozen in preparation for IVF treatment. “He told me if something happened to him, he would want me to grieve, but also to feel like I could love someone else and move on with my life.” She never expected to do anything with it.

In the end, she decided not to continue. Instead, she froze more of her eggs, not knowing what her future would look like without the husband she planned it with.

Though she still passionately wanted a family, she gave herself permission to mourn for 18 months.

When she finally started dating, she was very candid with potential partners that she wanted a family. Some couldn’t handle such candor, she laughs. But two years after Nic’s death, she met her partner – a 46-year-old academic researcher.

“I am in a relationship with a wonderful person who fully understands how much I loved Nic and accepts that he will always be a part of my life.” She still wears Nic’s wedding ring.

Nine months ago, Alex gave birth to their son. And she and her former mother-in-law remain very close. ‘She’s so nice. It would be really easy for her to feel that I replaced Nic and got a new family pretty quickly, but she’s been incredibly generous about it. Her mind is that she knows that Nic would have wanted me to be happy.”

It’s lucky that Alex knows she deserved it. But she is evangelical about people who are better prepared for loss. Death doesn’t just happen to the elderly, she emphasizes.

“Part of my evangelism is for parents to nag their grown children to make a will. I really wish my family had nagged me more.’

She firmly believes that we need to talk about death differently so that we can better cope with life’s difficult times. “For most people, there’s plenty of time to change your mind and update your will for the rest of your life,” she says, but for some, affected by a tragedy like her, it just won’t be there.

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