Estate

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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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

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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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

What does an enduring guardian do?

An enduring guardian is a person appointed to make decisions about your health and lifestyle for periods in which you are incapable of making such decisions for yourself (for example if you have dementia, are in a coma, are unconscious following a car accident or suffer from some other mental incapacity.)

Appointing an Enduring Guardian is an important step in implementing a proper estate plan (others include having a Will and appointing a Power of Attorney).

HOW DO YOU APPOINT AN ENDURING GUARDIAN?

You can choose who can make decisions on your behalf regarding your medical and dental treatment and decide where you live if you are not capable of doing this for yourself. These are known as “functions”. The easiest way to do this is to appoint an enduring guardian.

The appointment of an enduring guardian takes effect only if and when you become unable to make personal or lifestyle decisions for yourself, such as where you are in a coma, are unconscious or suffer from mental incapacity like dementia.

WHO CAN BE APPOINTED?

An enduring guardian must be at least 18 years of age but cannot be a person who, at the time of the appointment, provides you with medical treatment, accommodation, support or care to you as a professional.

The appointed enduring guardian should be someone that you trust absolutely as they have significant powers. Although an enduring guardian must act in accordance with the provisions of the Guardianship Act 1987 (NSW), you should be satisfied that the person you appoint will act in your best interests.

You can appoint more than one person to act as your enduring guardian – either jointly (together) or separately. You can also appoint alternative enduring guardians in case something happens to your first nominated enduring guardian. For example, people often appoint their spouse and have their children as their joint alternate enduring guardians.

WHAT DECISIONS CAN AN ENDURING GUARDIAN MAKE?

You can give your enduring guardian the discretion to make all decisions for you when you are not able to make them for yourself or alternatively, you can limit your enduring guardian’s functions such as to consenting to certain procedures, limiting their discretion as to the type of nursing home or care facility you want to reside in or requiring specialist consultation or consultation with relatives regarding decisions about your care and treatment.

You cannot give your enduring guardian a function or direction which would require an unlawful act, such as assisted euthanasia. You can provide specific directions regarding turning off life support, ‘do not resuscitate’ orders, assisted ventilation, artificial nutrition and hydration etc.

ENDING ENDURING GUARDIANSHIP

An enduring guardian’s appointment comes to an end when you die or if you revoke the appointment however, you can only revoke it provided you still have mental capacity.

The New South Wales Civil & Administrative Tribunal can review or revoke a person’s appointment as an enduring guardian and can make a guardianship order appointing a new guardian or appointing a representative of the NSW Trustee & Guardian if it is considered that your guardian not making appropriate decisions on your behalf.

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.

Superannuation and your estate planning

Did you know that your superannuation does not necessarily form part of your estate when you die? This can cause problems unless it is properly dealt with as part of your Estate Planning.

Your superannuation will not be dealt with in accordance with your wishes (in your Will) unless you have a valid and binding beneficiary nomination in place. The trustees of most funds have discretion as to who to pay benefits to. If you have no dependants, the trustee will likely pay it to your estate, but why take the risk?

Take control of your superannuation death benefits and put in place a beneficiary nomination today.

To avoid applications to the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal or the Supreme Court, make a nomination – they can be binding or non-binding, lapsing or non-lapsing and require formalities such as 2 witnesses etc.

Speak to us about your estate planning and ensure your wishes are properly documented.

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.

What is a Power of Attorney?

GRANTING A POWER OF ATTORNEY

The Powers of Attorney Act 2003 (NSW) provides for a person to appoint another person as their attorney to make financial and contractual decisions on their behalf. The document granting a power of attorney is a prescribed form under the Act.

general power of attorney does not require a solicitor’s certificate however, it ceases to be of effect if you lose mental capacity (like where you are in a coma or suffer from dementia).

An enduring power of attorney on the other hand continues to be effective if you were to suffer such an incapacity. For this reason, an enduring power of attorney must be explained to you and witnessed by a lawyer who will provide a certificate in the prescribed form. We usually recommend an enduring power of attorney so that if some event happened to you that affected your capacity, your attorney would still be able to assist you.

If you are suffering from any illness, have deteriorating health, are going overseas or interstate or just want peace of mind, appointing an attorney to assist you to manage your affairs is generally a good idea.

HOW DOES IT OPERATE?

The nominated attorney has the ability to decide whether or not to accept that role by signing it.

You can choose when your power of attorney is to take effect. It can be restricted to only take effect if a registered medical practitioner certifies that you are of unsound mind, upon some other event (such as whilst you are overseas), from a date you choose or, it can operate immediately (for convenience).

You can give the power of attorney for specific purpose (for example to assist with the sale or purchase of a specific property or to attend an auction and bid on your behalf), for a specified time (for example, between 2 dates) and you can give directions on how powers are to be exercised (such as not to bid above a certain level or to only sell for a certain reserve price).

You can have a power of attorney for situations of necessity, like where you are ill or absent, or simply for convenience, but you have to appoint someone you trust without reservation.

An attorney may not use the principal’s monies or assets for gifts or benefits to the attorney or third parties unless this is specifically authorised in the document granting the power of attorney

ENDING AN APPOINTMENT

Provided you remain of sound mind, you can revoke a power of attorney at any time by signing a form of revocation and providing the attorney with that revocation.

The New South Wales Civil & Administrative Tribunal can review or revoke a person’s appointment as a power of attorney and can make a financial management order appointing a new attorney (or attorneys) or by appoint a representative of the NSW Trustee & Guardian if it is considered that your attorney not making appropriate decisions on your behalf.

DO I HAVE TO REGISTER THE POWER OF ATTORNEY?

A power of attorney must be registered at the Land & Property Information Division of the New South Wales Department of Lands if it is being used for dealing with land in NSW, such as selling, transferring, mortgaging property and the like.

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.

Planning on giving money to your kids?

THERE ARE BETTER WAYS TO HELP YOUR KIDS THAN A GIFT

Most parents want to give their kids a headstart in life. Often, this takes the form of money for a car or a deposit for a first home.

Have you considered what would happen to that money if your son or daughter either:

  • broke up with their partner,
  • passed away; or
  • ran into financial difficulties or became a bankrupt?

There are better ways to help your kids than a simple gift of money – protect it so it can continue to be used for their benefit even if they get into financial trouble.

If you give money to your kids, it won’t automatically come back to you if any of those things happen

  • on their separation or divorce, it would be an asset of their relationship and be available for distribution between your son or daughter and their partner under the Family Law Actor the Property (Relationships) Act.
  • on death, those funds will flow to their beneficiaries as stated in their Will (or if they don’t have a Will, in accordance with the laws of intestacy).
  • on bankruptcy, their trustee in bankruptcy will be able to use those funds to pay themselves and any creditors.

In order to protect against these types of events, the advance needs to be documented as a loan. In the absence of such a document, the “presumption of advancement” applies because of the relationship of parent and child and it will be considered a gift.

If your child died, got into financial strife or had matrimonial issues, the loan could be called in – and would be available to lend again once things had settled.

Ideally, in addition to a Loan Agreement, some form of security for the loan could be provided, such as a Mortgage or Caveat over land or a Security Interest registered on the Personal Property Securities Register.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to litigation and dispute resolution or any commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

 

So what actually is Probate?

WHAT IS PROBATE?

An application for Probate ought generally to be made with the Supreme Court within 6 months of the date of a person’s death. If more than 6 months has elapsed, the Court may require evidence in the form of an affidavit explaining the reasons for the delay.

Many entities that record asset ownership (such as the Department of Lands, banks, aged care facilities and share registries) will not release or transfer the assets of a deceased estate until Probate is obtained. If real property (land) is involved, a Grant of Probate will be required.

HOW DO YOU APPLY FOR PROBATE?

Probate is obtained by making an application to the Supreme Court. Documents including a Summons, Inventory and Affidavit of Executor are filed and various notices are published. Most people use a lawyer to do this for them.

If the executor’s application for probate is approved or granted, the executor is given a sealed document called a “Grant of Probate”.

If a deceased person does not leave a Will, their estate is not administered after obtaining a Grant of Probate however, a similar document called “Letters of Administration” can be obtained by family members, such as a surviving spouse or children. The estate is then distributed as governed by the laws of intestacy – a statutory formula for how a person’s estate is divided if they don’t have a valid Will.

IS PROBATE NECESSARY FOR JOINT ASSETS?

If the deceased person owned assets jointly with other people (such as a spouse), probate is not required to deal with those particular assets because, at law, those assets pass to the surviving joint owner immediately on the other joint owner’s death.

Where a deceased estate comprises only of a few assets of small value, it is common for banks and the like to dispense with the requirement to obtain a grant of probate provided that the executor provides an indemnity for any claim made by others for wrongly releasing the asset.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER PROBATE?

After a Grant of Probate is obtained, the executor can get in all of the deceased’s assets, pay any estate liabilities and distribute the estate as required by the Will, subject to there being no unsatisfied claims by creditors or family members such as those under the Succession Act 2006. Often distribution takes place around 12 months after death.

WHAT DOES IT COST?

There are 2 aspects of dealing with an estate and the costs for each part are charged separately: the first part is the cost of obtaining Probate or Letters of Administration; the second party is actually administering the estate as required by the Will.

The cost of applying for probate is determined and fixed according to a scale set out in Schedule 3 to the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Regulation 2015, with the cost being calculated by applying the statutory formula to the total value of the estate.

The costs of administering the estate after probate (selling or transferring the assets) are not capped, are usually charged at hourly rates and an estimate of costs should be provided.

FURTHER INFORMATION

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

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