12 years after his death, N.W.T. woman still trying to finalize her father's estate

Rose Betthale-Reid holds up the obituary her family wrote for her father William, who went missing in the Petitot River in 2010. (Anna Desmarais/CBC North - image credit)
Rose Betthale-Reid holds up the obituary her family wrote for her father William, who went missing in the Petitot River in 2010. (Anna Desmarais/CBC North - image credit)

Rose Betthale-Reid lost her father, William Betthale, in 2010. He went missing on the Petitot River in B.C., a tributary of the Liard River, after leaving his cabin in a canoe to check his fish net.

As time went on, they had to face the reality that he most likely lost his life on the river. The loss was devastating for her family.

Out of five South Slavey-speaking siblings, Betthale-Reid is the most fluent in English so the responsibility fell on her to finalize his estate. That process started seven years ago and she's nowhere near close to finishing.

She said because he lived in Fort Liard, N.W.T., but went missing in B.C. where the family's trapline is, she's been having trouble obtaining his death certificate. The process is taking a toll on her and her family.

"My one sister, it's really hard on her. She's daddy's girl," Betthale-Reid said. "She still [stresses] herself out quite a bit cause it's too overwhelming for her."

Anna Desmarais/CBC North
Anna Desmarais/CBC North

But getting their father's estate finalized has been complicated, Betthale-Reid said.

She said part of the delay is a jurisdictional issue, the Fort Liard RCMP in the N.W.T. was the first to respond to the disappearance and took statements from the family. But the file was eventually transferred to the Fort Nelson, B.C., detachment, on the side of the border where Betthale went missing.

"So they [started] helping us," said Betthale-Reid. "Now I find out that the RCMP in Fort Liard and the RCMP in Fort Nelson would not talk to one another because of the jurisdiction."

She also said the original statement that the Fort Nelson RCMP had on file for the incident had an inaccurate account of where her father went missing. Betthale-Reid said it took almost a year to successfully get in touch with the department to change it.

Another reason for the delay, she said, is that no one seems to be helping her. Betthale-Reid said once she started the process, she's been handed off from different RCMP detachments to different provincial and territorial government departments.

As an elder, sorting out on her own the steps she needs to take and the paperwork she needs to fill out has been stressful and time-consuming, she said.

Betthale-Reid finally got help from a public trustee in Yellowknife. The trustee helps manage the estates of deceased people. She tried contacting him recently and found out the trustee has since moved. She was eventually assigned a new one but hasn't heard anything since.

At this point, she said she doesn't know what stage she's at anymore.

"I can deal with it for a little while and put it aside. Dealing with the government it's just like, I have to pace myself and say 'OK that's enough for today,'" she said.

CBC News reached out to the N.W.T. RCMP who advised CBC to contact the coroner. The coroner directed CBC toward the court system.

CBC also reached out to the N.W.T.'s Public Trustee Office but were not able to reach anyone. When trying to leave a voicemail, the mailbox was full.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services said that when a person dies and the body is not recovered, the family needs to obtain a presumption of death order.

Because Betthale went missing in B.C., his family will have to go through the British Columbia court system. Once the presumption of death order is granted, the death can be registered and an official death certificate can be issued.

Meanwhile, Betthale-Reid said she and her family are still waiting for some sort of closure. Some family members still go out on the land looking for him.

She said she wants to warn people, especially elders about the dangers of not having a will in place and hopes this doesn't happen to anyone else dealing with the loss of a loved one.

She said her father's land taxes are adding up on the home she now lives in. But she can't pay those taxes without administrative power over his estate.

"You see the headache I have to go through, and I'm doing this alone," said Betthale-Reid. "My husband, when things get too much he just holds me till I stop crying."