Draw up a will this month and all it will cost you is a donation to the Northern Ireland Hospice
Tim Browne's late dad Raymond, a well-known figure in local cricketing circles, was cared for by the hospice in his final days. Now, 26 legal firms are fundraising to support its work during Make a Will Month. By Stephanie Bell
Local people are being urged to make a will during the month of March and support the good work of the Northern Ireland Hospice. Twenty-six local solicitor firms are waiving their fees for Make a Will Month in return for a donation to the hospice.
And one of them, Belfast solicitor Tim Browne, has a special reason for wanting to do what he can to support the charity after the hospice nursed his late father in his final days in 2002.
Tim's dad Raymond was well-known in local sporting circles as a player with Woodvale Cricket Club in Belfast, where he also served as chair and coach.
Tim, the youngest of three, followed in his father's footsteps, joining the club when he was just five and also playing for the First XI. He is the club's current chairman.
He has supported the annual Make a Will Month campaign run by the NI Hospice every year since it launched in 2012.
More than £50,000 has been raised through the campaign for the charity, helping to care and support infants, children and adults living with life-limiting and life-threatening illnesses.
While family is at the heart of life in Northern Ireland, around 65% of us still don't have a will - and surprisingly just 3% of those who do include a charitable gift.
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As Tim urged people to take advantage of this chance to get their affairs in order, he also highlighted some of the pitfalls of not having a will.
Ironically when he qualified as a solicitor in 1999, his father's will was one of the first that Tim drew up. Raymond had been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive stomach cancer in 1995 and after surgery and gruelling chemotherapy appeared to have made a full recovery.
Tragically, shortly after making his will the cancer came back and spread to his liver and he was given just months to live.
Tim, who has worked for the Belfast firm Peden & Reid Solicitors since he graduated in 1999, says: "My father was finally determined to put his affairs in order by making a will.
"Although he had always intended to do it he had never got around to putting pen to paper. He led a very busy life which revolved around his family, his work at Shorts and his real passion - cricket and Woodvale Cricket Club in particular.
"In my early years in practice I soon came to realise just how common a situation this is where people know they need to do it but don't get round to it.
"However, like so many people, once dad fully committed to the process he found it was much more straightforward and less daunting than he had initially thought.
"It brought him great reassurance and peace of mind to know that in the event of his death his loved ones and, in particular, my mother Evelyn would be looked after in accordance with his wishes."
Raymond was 65 when he passed away from cancer in the Northern Ireland Hospice. A lifelong and passionate cricketer he had been looking forward to retiring and devoting all of his time to his beloved Woodvale. Sadly he didn't get to retire.
Tim (41) is married to Caroline (38), who works in finance, and has a daughter Ellie (10). Recalling his father's illness, he says: "When dad was first diagnosed he had surgery and they were reasonably confident they had got it all out.
"It was my first experience of cancer and at the time it is something that really doesn't sink in just how serious it is or what the impact is unless you go through it.
"Dad lost his hair and the chemo left him very sick and that was really hard to watch. We had hoped though that he would recover and he did, only for it to come back five years later in his lungs and then his body started to shut down.
"My dad was my best friend, I have an older brother Gavin and a sister Nicola, and I was the only one who joined his beloved Woodvale.
"Dad never stopped playing cricket for the club and he played at a reasonably high level. He was in the First XI for four decades and was playing right up until he was 60, standing in at matches. He also coached children and was chairman of the club. His life revolved around cricket. One of the most frustrating things is that he was due to retire at 65 when he passed away and didn't get to enjoy his retirement.
"He was looking forward to having the extra time to devote to the club but he didn't get that chance."
In his last few months Raymond was cared for at home by his family. But in his final days and to give him the best care possible he moved to Somerton Road Hospice.
It was the family's first experience of the remarkable care and comfort provided by hospice staff and it has left Tim feeling eternally grateful to the charity.
"It was undoubtedly the worst period in all of our lives, but thanks to hospice staff it was somehow made manageable," he says. "The love, care and attention of the wonderful and compassionate staff was immediately apparent and gave us all immense comfort when we needed it most.
"It was not the sad place that we had all expected and to some extent dreaded.
"All of the people there, including staff, volunteers, other patients, their families and other visitors simply understood. It not only provided a safe haven of peace, calm and tranquility but it also provided unexpected light-heartedness and humour. Indeed, all these years later this is the impression which has stayed in my mind."
Hospice staff arranged for the family to sleep in the same room with Raymond and managed his increasing pain levels to ensure his comfort.
Tim adds: "My brief involvement with the hospice had a lasting impact upon me and when the first opportunity arose to take part in Make a Will Month I was delighted to become involved.
"I have taken part each year since and I always look forward to giving a little something back to the charity and at the same time remember my dad.
"There is such reward and satisfaction in witnessing the often palpable sense of relief felt when a client finally executes a will and at the same time knowing that I have helped to raise much needed funds for such an essential asset as the hospice."
Tim says that of the 35% of us who do get round to making a will there are two distinct categories - young people getting on the property ladder and older people fearing that they don't have much time left.
He knows through first-hand experience with clients how difficult it can be for families when a loved one dies without a will.
And he insists that it is not just wealthy people who need to put their wishes down in a document. Even making a will to gift personal items like jewellery to family can let them know how much you cared for them.
He says: "If a person does not make a will the deceased is deemed to have died 'intestate'. In these circumstances the estate will be administered in accordance with an Act dating back to 1955.
"Life has changed a lot between then and now, especially when it comes to couples living together. The law doesn't allow for this and if they are not married they will not benefit from their partner's estate.
"I have had cases where people had children and then remarried which makes their previous will null and void. They didn't know this and when they died everything went to their second wife and their children got nothing, which wasn't what they wanted.
"There are more people dying without a will than with one and there is definitely a sense of people putting it off. Most people know they should do it and intend to get around to it but don't.
"There are also some people who don't do it because they are superstitious and don't like talking about death or thinking about it."
In Tim's experience those who do make a will enjoy a sense of relief and a feeling of achievement that their wishes will be carried out.
"People are glad they did it and enjoy the peace of mind knowing their wishes will be granted," he explains. "For the people they are leaving behind it gives them a sense that they were loved and thought about.
"Without a will, it is left up to a cold piece of legislation to decide who gets what and this method of distribution may be very far from what the deceased would have wanted and what he could have provided for in a properly drafted will."
- The no fee campaign runs throughout March and it is up to individuals to decided how much to donate to the hospice. To find out how you can participate and for details of solicitors taking part got to /support-us/make-a-will-month-2019