Probate

Does marriage, separation or divorce affect my Will?

This blogpost is limited to New South Wales as the laws in each State and Territory differ in relation to these matters.

Marriage

If you get married after you sign a Will, the Will is revoked unless it is specifically stated to have been made in contemplation of that particular marriage taking place.

Marriage will not affect a gift to the person who is your spouse at your date of death or their appointment as your executor.

Entering into a defacto relationship does not have the same impact on a Will as a marriage, but this can give rise to other rights as regards the property of the relationship whilst the parties are alive (and claims in relation to the division of the estate on their deaths).

Divorce

Subject to the contrary intention being expressed in a Will, if you divorce after you make your Will, it only revokes or cancels any gift to a former spouse and their appointment as executor.

It will not however cancel their appointment as trustee of property left on trust for beneficiaries that include children of both you and your former spouse.

Separation

If you don’t update your Will after you separate, your spouse may inherit any property you left to them and they can still be the executor of your estate if named as such in theWill.

The take away

If any time your circumstances change (such as a birth or death in the family, a marriage, separation or divorce or a material change in finances for the better or the worse) you should consider whether your estate planning documents require any updates. It may be that no change is necessary, but it at least should be considered.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to Wills and estate planning, contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au 

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Am I entitled to a copy of a Will?

At a very emotional time, often there is confusion as to what rights and obligations exist in relation to obtaining a copy of someone’s Will.

Many clients ask us “Am I entitled to a copy of a Will?” or “Do I really need to give them a copy of the Will?

It should go without saying that no-one is entitled to see the Will of a person who is still alive! After death however, the Succession Act 2006 (NSW) provides that any person who has possession or control of a Will of a deceased person must allow any one or more of the following persons to inspect or to be given copies of the will (at their own expense):

“(a) any person named or referred to in the Will, whether as a beneficiary or not,
(b) any person named or referred to in an earlier Will as a beneficiary of the deceased person,
(c) the surviving spouse, de facto partner or issue of the deceased person,
(d) a parent or guardian of the deceased person,
(e) any person who would be entitled to a share of the estate of the deceased person if the deceased person had died intestate,
(f) any parent or guardian of a minor referred to in the Will or who would be entitled to a share of the estate of the testator if the testator had died intestate,
(g) any person (including a creditor) who has or may have a claim at law or in equity against the estate of the deceased person,
(h) any person committed with the management of the deceased person’s estate under the NSW Trustee and Guardian Act 2009 immediately before the death of the deceased person,
(i) any attorney under an enduring power of attorney made by the deceased person,
(j) any person belonging to a class of persons prescribed by the Regulations.”

As you can see:

  • there are a number of persons that have a right to a inspect or to be given a copy of the Will; and
  • the executor or person with possession or control of a Will (which could include a lawyer or firm that holds it in safe custody) have an obligation to provide a copy on request.

Of course, there needs to be proof provided that the person who made the Will has in fact died – ie, provide the death certificate (which usually happens via the executor or next of kin).

The purpose of this access to the Will is partly to allow an persons with a claim on a deceased estate to know if they have been provided for in the Will, that it is the deceased person’s latest Will and who the executor is.

There is sometimes also confusion as to the effect of clauses in Wills that provide for the appointment of a particular person or firm as the estate’s lawyers for the purposes of obtaining probate. The executor is free to choose whichever lawyer or firm they wish to act for them in obtaining probate and assisting with the administration of a deceased estate.

The Probate and Administration Act 1898 provides that the Will of the deceased, once admitted to probate, is a public document and that anybody is entitled to apply for a copy of it from the Supreme Court of New South Wales  (and paying the relevant fee) however, it is generally best to contact the person in possession of the document for a copy, before approaching the Supreme Court.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to Wills, Probate, estate planning or even International Wills, please contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au 

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Coronavirus: Remote witnessing of legal documents

On 22 April 2020, the Electronic Transactions Amendment (COVID-19 Witnessing of Documents) Regulation 2020 (NSW) came into effect.

The effect of the Regulation is that the signing of legal documents in New South Wales such as Wills, Powers of Attorney, Deeds, Agreements, Appointments of Enduring Guardians, Affidavits and Statutory Declarations can be witnessed by audio visual link, rather than having to be physically present, as is normally the case – that is the law (during the COVID-19 pandemic) now allows the remote witnessing of legal documents.

Some documents have other additional requirements, like Wills which require 2 witnesses, not just one, as is provided for in s.6(1)(c) of the Succession Act 2006 (NSW).

Audio visual link includes Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype, HouseParty, FaceTime and the like.

The witness must sign the document either:

  1. by signing a counterpart of the document as soon as practicable after witnessing the signing of the document; or
  2. if the signatory scans and sends a copy of the signed document electronically, the witness may countersign the document as soon as practicable after witnessing the signing of the document.

The witness must endorse the document, or the copy of the document, with a statement that specifies the method used to witness the signing and that the document was witnessed in accordance with the Electronic Transactions Regulation 2017.

All copies of the document should be stored together so they can be read as the one document.

The Regulations do not change what documents may or may not be executed electronically in NSW – only how documents may be witnessed and attested.  The Regulations also do not affect the laws or requirements of any other jurisdiction, including the Commonwealth (such as company execution of documents under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth).

Under the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (NSW), the Regulation were to operate for a maximum period of 6 months from 22 April 2020 however, on 18 September 2020, the Stronger Communities Legislation Amendment (COVID-19) Regulation 2020 came into effect such that, among other things, the operation of the electronic witnessing regulations was extended to 26 March 2021.

Similar regulations are in place in the other States and Territories, such as Queensland’s Justice Legislation (COVID-19 Emergency Response – Wills and Enduring Documents) Regulation 2020 (Qld).

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to legal issues arising from Coronavirus, if you had previously held off arranging documents such as for your estate planning due to not wanting to attend our office physically due to social distancing concerns or if you need to discuss how to best to arrange signing of documents under the Regulation, please contact us on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice.

Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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COVID-19: McKillop Legal remains open for business

McKillop Legal remains open for business and is fully operational despite the significant and unprecedented challenges facing our families, the Australian economy and our way of life as a result of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

We remain open for business and available to provide advice either by telephone, email or other services (and, if necessary, in person, abiding by the Government’s social distancing guidelines).

Our staff all have the ability to work remotely from home or in other places using our secure technology infrastructure and systems.

If you or your business has any legal issue it requires assistance with, whether relating to your rights or responsibilities relating to business, shutdowns or employment in relation to the pandemic or in relation to other matters, please call or email us and we will be in touch promptly.

Take care.

No Will – dying intestate

If you were to pass away without leaving a Will, then your estate will not necessarily pass to the people that you may wish to benefit.

Dying without a Will in place is called dying “intestate” and the ultimate beneficiaries of your estate will miss out on important and valuable benefits that could have been provided had you put in place a Will such as asset protection and tax minimisation opportunities like those in Testamentary Trusts.

Making an application to the Supreme Court to deal with the estate of a person who dies intestate is similar to seeking a grant of Probate but it is called applying for “Letters of Administration”. If a Will is left but fails to appoint an executor, it is “Letters of Administration with the Will Annexed” but at least then the Will would explain who you want to benefit following your death.

In addition to the Summons, Inventory of property and Affidavit of Administrator, things that need to be provided to the Court include: proof of enquiry into the existence and whereabouts of any Will; the identity of the deceased’s eligible relatives (death, birth and marriage certificates); proof of notification of the application to interested persons; an affidavit regarding the relationship status of the deceased; and possibly provision of an administration bond.

The reason for this evidence of a spouse/domestic partner is that the law provides for a formula as to how an intestate estate is to be divided and a lot depends on the marital relationship of the deceased.

Chapter 4 (sections 101-140) of the Succession Act 2006 (NSW) provide that the statutory order of inheritance in relation to an intestacy is:

RELATIVES LEFT

​ENTITLEMENT

A spouse and no children

The spouse is entitled to the whole of the estate.

A spouse and child(ren) from that relationship

The spouse is entitled to the whole of the estate.

A spouse and child(ren) from a that (or a previous) relations​​hip

The spouse is entitled to receive:

  • the personal effects of the deceased;
  • a statutory legacy of $350 000;* and
  • half of the residue of the estate.

The spouse also has a ‘right to elect’ to acquire property from the estate.

All of the deceased’s children, including children^ from previous relationships and from the current spouse (whether they are from a previous relationship or from the spouse) are entitled to equal shares of the other half of the residue.

Multiple spouses

The spouses are entitled to equal shares of the estate (unless varied by Order or agreement between them). There may be more than one spouse if the deceased was married and had one or more domestic relationships/de facto spouses. Children get nothing in this case.

Children only (no spouse)

The children are entitled to equal shares of the estate. If a child of the deceased has already died leaving children (ie, the deceased’s grandchildren), the grandchildren are entitled to their parent’s share in equal shares.

No spouse or children

The deceased’s parents are entitled to equal shares of the estate.

No spouse, children or parents

The deceased’s full and half blood brothers and sisters are entitled to equal shares of the estate.

No spouse, children, parents, brothers or sisters

The deceased’s grandparents are entitled to equal shares of the estate.

No spouse, children, parents, brothers, sisters or grandparents

The deceased’s full and half blood aunts and uncles are entitled to equal shares of the estate.

No spouse, children, parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts or uncles

The deceased’s first cousins are entitled to equal shares of the estate.

No spouse, children, parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins

The State government is entitled to the whole of the estate.

* Adjusted by CPI. If this amount is not paid within 1 year from the date of death, the spouse is also entitled to receive interest on this amount.

^ Children who are not legally the children of the deceased (eg, step children) are not included. Adoptive children are included.

Special rules also apply in relation to indigenous persons.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to probate, letters of administration, estate planning or business succession, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice.

Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs. Stay up to date – LinkedIn Facebook Twitter

Power of appointment

You may have a family trust or a discretionary trust that your accountant prepared for you.

Perhaps you are the trustee or that trust, or one of several trustees such as your spouse or partner or perhaps you are a director of a company that is the trustee.

There are a number of terms used in trust deeds that are not commonly understood, such as the “settlor”,vesting date” or the “excluded class”.

One of the things that is often:

  • not properly considered at the time of establishing the trust; and /or
  • overlooked at the time estate planning documents are being drafted

is the “power of appointment”.

The power of appointment is a power granted to the “appointor” named in the trust deed to decide who should be the trustee of the trust.

This power of appointment is the most important power in a trust deed as it generally affords the appointor the power to remove and replace the trustee as the appointor thinks fit (subject of course to any provisions of the trust deed).

Often the trust deed will provide for how that power is to be transferred, such as on the death of the appointor, and allows the appointor to give that power in their Will.

If you have a trust deed and you either:

  • don’t know who holds the power of appointment;
  • want to amend the trust deed to change who holds that power of appointment or
  • want to ensure that the power is appropriately transferred on your death

then speak to your lawyer about this without delay.

FURTHER INFORMATION

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

Contract to Make Mutual Wills

A Contract to make Mutual Wills is an agreement between 2 parties (usually a husband and wife, but can be a same sex couple or a de facto couple) to make Wills in an agreed form.

Usually, they provide that the parties may not act such that those Wills don’t get given effect to, such as:

  • revoking or destroying the Will;
  • making a new Will; or
  • disposing of assets so that they do not pass to the agreed beneficiaries

without the consent of the other party (or the executors/administrators of their estate  if they have died).

Often they are put in place when the parties have had a prior marriage or marriages and there are children of the prior relationship/s and the current relationship.

The benefit of such contracts (or deeds as they often are) is that the parties can take some comfort in providing for the other during their lifetimes (for example by gifting their entire estates to each other in their Wills), but with the overall distribution of their combined estates (on the death of the last of them) passing as agreed in the Wills made pursuant to the document.

Where a party breaches the agreement (such as by changing their Will), that party (or their estate) may be sued by the other party (or their executors/administrators if they have died) for breach of contract.

Whilst mutual Wills can be an effective estate planning tool, they are not for everyone and they can cause unintended complications due to their inflexibility, particularly around subsequent marriages, children and unexpected events following the death of a party.

As with most things, there are also other options or alternatives to consider to get a similar result, including creating life interests in real estate or establishing trusts.

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.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your estate planning needs.

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SMSF owns property. Member dies. Oh oh!

Do you, like many Australians, have a self managed superannuation fund (SMSF)?

If you want to own direct investments within your superannuation or have greater control of your superannuation portfolio, a SMSF can be a suitable alternative to retail superannuation funds.

SOME ADVANTAGES OF SMSFs

SMSFs have:

  • direct investment choice
  • access to wholesale managed funds
  • the benefit of being able to combine the superannuation balances of up to 4 people
  • the advantage of 15% taxation on investment earnings (as opposed to marginal or company tax rates) and potentially reduced capital gains tax
  • the ability to assist with estate planning and possibly for non-lapsing binding death benefit nominations

DIRECT PROPERTY

Often seen as a key advantage is the ability of an SMSF to invest in direct property, such as owning office or factory space from which a business operates from (assuming your SMSF’s Investment Strategy allows for direct property).

Where member balances are insufficient to buy a property outright, SMSFs can also borrow but only using a limited recourse borrowing arrangement (LRBA) using a bare trustee that holds the property on behalf of the SMSF for the duration of the loan and once the debt is paid, the legal ownership of the property passes to the SMSF.

Property values hopefully go up over the next 20 or so years and the members benefit from and can live happily off the benefits during retirement …

… well that’s the plan anyway. So, what happens if a member dies or gets really sick a few years into the plan? (hint – it can ruin everything, for the other members).

CONSEQUENCES OF DEATH OR TPD

On the death of a member, that member’s superannuation balance is to be paid out (to the member’s estate of their nominated beneficiary/ies) as soon as is practicable.

On the total and permanent disablement (TPD) of a member, the member may be able to exit from the SMSF and call for their member balance to be paid out.

… but if the SMSF’s cash is all tied up in the property and the property is still subject to the LRBA, where does the money come from to pay out the member balance?

The property may have to be sold to fund this! That is, unless there is a SMSF Member Death & TPD Exit Deed in place.

SMSF MEMBER DEATH & TPD EXIT DEED

A SMSF Member Death & TPD Exit Deed can help in reducing the financial effects arising from the unexpected death or TPD of a member by for example:

  • requiring the SMSF members to effect a life insurance policy over the lives of the other members and where there is a death and a payout under the policy, the policy owners contribute funds to the SMSF with the intention of paying out the deceased member’s superannuation balance (and using any remainder to reduce or pay out any debt on the property under the LRBA); and
  • requiring the SMSF members to either put in place appropriate TPD cover or to agree that on the occurrence of a TPD event of a member, that member may remain a passive investor in the SMSF but cannot immediately call for payment of their member balance, even if they would otherwise be entitled to under the superannuation legislation, but rather, if they want the payment, their member balance is to be paid out over several years (ie, from the SMSF’s cashflow).

Unless there are appropriate insurances in place or an agreement for members to only get paid out benefits over time in the event of a TPD event, then the likely outcome of the death or TPD of one member is the sale of the SMSF’s property.

This can be a particularly bad problem if the SMSF has only recently acquired the property and had therefore incurred all of the legal, financial planning and accounting costs as well as stamp duty, but had no time for the asset to generate income or appreciate in value. The death or TPD of the one member therefore affects up to 3 other members who may not even be related to the affected member!

FURTHER INFORMATION

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

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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SMSF owns property. Member dies. Oh oh!

Why you should look at your estate planning

There are at least 3 documents you should consider as part of your personal estate planning:

  1. A will;
  2. A power of attorney; and
  3. Appointing an enduring guardian.

A WILL

A Will is a legal document that details who will take care of your assets and distribute them on your death in accordance with your stated wishes. Consider:

  • Who you would want to control your estate if you died?
  • What would happen to your estate if you didn’t have a Will?
  • Who would look after your children until they are adults?
  • That life insurance proceeds, jointly owned assets and superannuation benefits are likely not to form part of your estate on your death.
  • What would happen to your business if you died? Business succession is often overlooked or not adequately dealt with by lawyers in wills.
  • Who would control your family trust if you died? Have you even read the trust deed?
  • How your family could best receive any inheritance from your estate having regard to such things as:
    • their own estate planning; asset protection measures; and
    • tax minimisation issues.

If your Will does not consider the above issues adequately or at all, then your intended beneficiaries could be receiving far less from their inheritance than you might hope and paying more tax than is necessary each year after you die.

If you pass away without having a valid Will in place (dying intestate), then your estate will be divided up without regard to your wishes at all.

TESTAMENTARY TRUSTS 

Testamentary trusts can save your family thousands in tax each and every year though income splitting opportunities and also provide a level of asset protection to benefit future generations. See our previous article on Wills with Testamentary Trusts.

POWERS OF ATTORNEY

Who would make decisions about your finances or assets if you were unable to (such as if you are in a coma, are unconscious or suffer from mental incapacity such as dementia)?

You can appoint a power of attorney to be able to manage your affairs. If you do not, the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) can appoint a person that you do not know to control your assets and make decisions for you.

APPOINTING AN ENDURING GUARDIAN

Who would make decisions regarding your medical and dental treatment and where you live if you are permanently or temporarily incapable of doing so?

If you don’t nominate somebody as your enduring guardian, then NCAT can appoint a person to make those decisions, which can include what medical treatment you get or if life support is not maintained.

FURTHER INFORMATION

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

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
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