You might not need a will — but here’s why you should make your final wishes known

Taking Action

"Take the time and document it ... I don't want another family to ever have to go through this."

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Let’s face it: No one really wants to think about death, but it’s going to happen at some point. Do your loved ones know what you want? Have you told them who you want to make the arrangements? If not, you’re loved ones could be left out. Nancy Wright and her family learned that the hard way.

“She called me and told me that Jonni had died and it was just a moment of shock,” Wright explained. “The next couple of hours, I couldn’t even move.”

It was Thanksgiving, a day to be with family, that Wright learned her youngest sibling, Jonni Floyd, was dead.

“She was always the one who could walk into a room and light it up,” Wright said.

The 48-year-old’s death remains an open investigation. The Henrico police report shows drugs at the scene. The medical examiner has ruled it accidental, noting the cause as heroin and fentanyl poisoning. Jonni’s estranged husband was with her at the time and was the one who called 911.

“We had a lot of questions. She had been living with a current boyfriend for 18 months in another relationship and had moved on,” Wright said.

Wright says Jonni had been clean and in counseling. But what the family learned next was even more shocking. Jonni’s estranged husband would be in charge of all arrangements.

“Their divorce was not final, so they had still been married. Legally he was her next of kin at this point,” explains Wright.

That meant he got to decide if Jonni was cremated or buried and if her relatives got to see her before the final arrangements were made. Wright says Jonni’s estranged husband wasn’t including them in any of it.

“It was horribly painful to think that we would never be able to see her again and not be able to say goodbye to her,” Wright said. “We knew above anything that our sister would want her daughter to have a say.”

Wright decided to petition the court under a little known and rarely used code in Virginia law for when next of kin disagree.

“Essentially it states that if a person passes away and has not left any instructions as to what should happen to their body, whether they want to be cremated or buried or anything of that nature,” explained legal analyst Russ Stone. “It states that any next of kin can petition a court to have some input on that via a brother, sister, spouse.”

Wright added, “The circuit court had never had a case filed like this.”

Wright was the first to file such a case in Chesterfield Court where her sister lived, and it’s perhaps the only case like this in state.

“It is a little-used code and we know that because there haven’t been any appellate interpretations before,” Stone said.

Wright researched and represented herself in court and won. She was declared Jonni’s next of kin.

“By the time we were actually able to resolve all of that, she had been gone over 20 days,” Wright recalled.

No one in the family had seen her or had the chance to see her before the court case was done. Once the Wright family finally got to say their goodbyes, Jonni was laid to rest in the way they thought she would have wanted. It had been an emotional ordeal for all involved. Jonni’s husband declined an interview for this story, but tells 8News he’s sad, too. He said he feels like Jonni was erased from his life.

“It is something that could be avoided,” Stone said, adding that if only Jonni had noted her wishes, this never would have had to end up in court.

He also says noting your wishes doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.

“You can do it with a lawyer and you can even do it without a lawyer,” Stone explained.

Wright adds, “Many people think I don’t have any money. I don’t own a house, my kids are grown. So, I don’t need to put my wishes in writing. It’s not so much formal that you have to have a will, it’s putting your wishes in writing.”

It’s true. Stone says it can be as simple as writing it down and having notarized or leaving a video.

Online there are many free resources available. 8News found last wishes planners, worksheets and forms you can download, store and share. There are even planner books you can purchase.

“Take the time and document it,” Wright said. “I don’t want another family to ever have to go through this.”

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