Deceased estate litigation
Succession Act claims
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.
- 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.
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.