This expression is a familiar one, and one which will conjure up a picture in your mind. For me it’s either the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) as in the Roald Dahl story, or a tall thin and older person living on their own with minimal possessions and no truck for modern life.

As it happens, the latter description would appear to be quite near the mark, with the exception of the level of possessions. The title of this post is with reference to a comment made by the neighbour of a family cousin, following his death aged 86 just before Christmas 2022. There are also next of kin implications and responsibilities.

This cousin has lived on his own for many years in a first floor flat with huge loft above, in what was a farmhouse in a seaside village on the East Coast of England. He had inherited this from his parents upon their deaths many years ago. He had no family of his own and chose the ‘simple’ and solitary life.

He worked as an engineer on land and at sea, and continued work throughout his retirement doing jobs and gardening for other people in the neighbourhood, and was seemingly fit and self-sufficient up until the day he died, when the people who lived in the flat beneath his had called the police due a to a lack of activity and noise above. Their fears were justified. He was found on the floor, his heart having given out due to an arterial problem as stated by the coroner. By any measure, a good way to go, at a great age.

We went down to the seaside town to collect the keys to the flat from the police, who had broken in, and tried to pick up whatever trail we could. There had been no face to face contact with this cousin for 55 years, although Christmas cards and letters were exchanged in the intervening years.

When we arrived at the flat – part of the house formerly owned within the family – it was something of a surprise. With the exception of a pile of CDs from the 1980s, a very small quantity of food in the elderly ‘fridge, and many piles of accumulated post, there was nothing to suggest anyone had lived here since the 1960s at the latest. That’s a big statement, but one which I can confirm, following another visit to the property.

I know you may find this hard to believe, but it is a very real time capsule of an era gone by – clothing, furniture, lack of any form of heating (really!), and room after room full of miscellaneous ‘stuff’ from an old model railway and woodworking equipment to magazines, crockery, and furniture which will have been his parents’. In the midst of all this clutter and chaos from a life lived to a template with which he was patently perfectly happy, rather spookily the very small kitchen table was set with a knife fork and spoon, teacup and saucer, and a plate and water glass – not that there was any likely food to back up this modicum of organisation.

By our usual standards, it was a sorry sight. By his, obviously not so. He had what he wanted and lived to a ripe age, so any judgement from outside sources is unwarranted.

That said, we have to pick up on what is in the flat and decide what to do with it all, as well as all of the other legal responsibilities. This could be really simple – get a van with some strong men and clear it out. No messing, no backward glances, and let them make what they can from the contents. This largely will inevitably be the answer, but it needs a controlled clearance, as we don’t know what may be unearthed that could be critical to his estate.

For example, no Will has been found, although rumoured to be in a box under a bed. No such box has yet been found. Phone calls have been made to all solicitors in his small town, and none has any Will registered with them in his name. It is highly unlikely he would have employed someone from outside his town. There is no trace of him having been anywhere outside his immediate surroundings since he stopped work.

We can cover this off once and for all when seeking our own legal advice, as any Will must be registered. Nor do we know what else may be uncovered, so the clearance must be managed, even if this is just a cursory look in drawers as furniture is placed in the big van.

So this man who led a simple life is leading us on a strange and interesting quest, and one which I shall provide an update for when there is more news. Watch this space….