Executor

Deceased estate litigation

Succession Act claims

We are often called upon to advise clients in relation to claims on estates in relation to such things as challenging the validity of the Will (such as due to lack of mental capacity when the deceased person made the will or duress) or what is known as a Succession Act claim or a family provision claim (where a person says that adequate provision was not made for them in a Will). We discuss the latter here.

The purpose of the Succession Act is to seek to ensure that “adequate” provision is provided from a deceased’s estate to the family members of a deceased person (and others). Claims under the Act are based on needs.

Important facts

  • Claims must be made within 12 months of the date of death of the deceased (although in limited circumstanced, this time limit can be extended).
  • To make a claim, you must first establish that you are an “eligible person”.
  • Assuming you are an “eligible person”, you must demonstrate needs beyond the provision that was made for you in the Will (if any) for your proper maintenance, education or advancement in life.

Who is an eligible person?

Those who are eligible to make a claim for a provision out of deceased estate include:
  • A spouse of the deceased at the time of the deceased’s death;
  • A person in a de facto relationship with the deceased at the time of death
  • Children (including adopted children) of the deceased;
  • Former spouses of the deceased;
  • Someone with whom the deceased was in a close personal relationship* at the time of their death;
  • Those who have, at any time, been wholly or partly dependent upon the deceased:

- were either a grandchild of the deceased; or

- were, at any time, member of a household of which the deceased a member.

* A “close personal relationship” is a relationship other than a marriage or a de facto relationship between two adult persons, whether or not related by family, who are living together, one or each of whom provides the other with domestic support and personal care but not for reward or on behalf of another person or organisation.

What is involved?

To make a claim, the proceedings are usually commenced in the Supreme Court by way of Summons and evidence will be required in an affidavit setting out the nature and history of the relationship, contributions made to the deceased’s property and wellbeing, details of your financial need and any other relevant factors.

Simply having financial needs and showing some level of dependence on the deceased is not the end of it. The Court will have to weigh up many other factors, such as the size of the estate, the deceased’s wishes (such as those stated in a statement of testamentary intention or other similar document), competing claims from others, circumstances and events that may tend to dis-entitle a person from a benefit and so on.

Time and costs involved

Litigation is a lengthy and time-consuming process and it is an emotional one with family relationships being strained by what may be contained in affidavits or said in the witness box at a hearing. That said, often the estate pays the costs (or a large proportion of them) involved in such cases so it may not be a financial burden to enforce your rights.

Most cases settle prior hearing and usually at a mediation that can be arranged by the Court or by private agreement between the parties. Settlement is often advised to avoid the risks, costs (and emotional cost) of litigation and to help preserve any family relationships.

Often we act for the executors of an estate, but we also act for beneficiaries and those that are not mentioned in Wills at all.
Further information

If you would like any more information in relation to Wills, deceased estate litigation or estate planning/business succession issues generally, please contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au

Why have a Will?

WHAT IS A WILL?

A Will is a legal document that outlines how you wish to have your assets distributed on your death. You get to choose who administers your estate for you and who and how your beneficiaries are to receive your assets.

Generally, to make a Will, you must be over 18, have proper mental capacity and sign a document in the presence of 2 independent witnesses.

If you pass away without having a valid will in place (called ‘dying intestate’) then the provisions of the Succession Act 2006 (NSW) will apply and your estate will be divided up without regard to your wishes.

Take control of who controls your estate and who inherits by putting in place a will today.

EXECUTORS

An executor is the person you appoint in your Will to deal with your estate on your death and to ensure that your wishes are carried out.  Often, people appoint 2 executors or provide for an alternate executor so that if one person is not willing (for example, due to age or infirmity) or able (for example, if they are dead or incapacitated) to act, then the other/alternate executor can act.

WHAT CAN A WILL INCLUDE?

Any asset that you own can be deal with in your will, whether bank accounts, motor vehicles, boats, jewellery or any other item. Particular items can be left to particular people, the whole of your estate can be left to one person or to several people in various fractions or percentages and conditions of gift can be imposed, such as paying out encumbrances such as mortgages.

Real property (houses and land) that is owned as ‘joint tenants’ (as is often the case for married couples) cannot be left by Will because when one joint owner dies, it automatically passes to the surviving owner. Where land is owned as tenants in common, it can be transmitted by Will. There can be good reasons for holding property in either way.

Life insurance and superannuation benefits are not able to be dealt with by a Will where specific beneficiaries have been nominated by policy owner. If the estate is nominated as beneficiary, a nomination has lapsed (they often lapse after 3 years) or no nomination has been made, the proceeds will usually be paid to the estate and distributed under the Will however, the trustee or the insurer may have discretion as to who to pay the benefit to. Your financial advisor would be able to advise you in relation to any superannuation death benefit nominations.

Often, wishes are expressed in Wills such as those relating to cremation or burial and directions regarding guardianship of infant children.

WHEN IS A NEW WILL REQUIRED?

If you get married or if you get separated or divorced from your spouse or partner or if your family circumstances change (for example, through a birth or a death or if you have a significant change to your finances, like an inheritance, bankruptcy, changes in business structure etc), you should make a new Will.

Your Will should be regularly reviewed (every few years at least) to ensure it still reflects your current wishes.

TESTAMENTARY TRUSTS

Consider whether your beneficiaries would benefit from having Wills with Testamentary Trusts as they can offer significant and ongoing benefits, including:

  • asset protection from creditors, and
  • taxation advantages such as income splitting.

This is particularly useful where your beneficiaries are in business and have their own asset protection measures in place, if they are ‘at risk’ or where you have income producing assets. Speak to us about how testamentary trusts can benefit your family.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to estate planning, business succession or any other commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.