Probate

What is the role of an executor?

An executor is the person appointed by a Will to administer a person’s estate when they die.

The role of an executor is basically to ensure the deceased person’s debts are paid and that their assets are dealt with as is stated in the Will.

The first task for an executor, after tending to any funeral arrangements, is to secure the assets of the estate such as cash and jewellery. The next task is to obtain a grant of Probate.

To apply for Probate, the executor needs to determine what the assets of the estate are (so that your lawyer can prepare an Inventory of the estate property) and what liabilities the deceased person may have. This often involves searching the deceased’s person’s records and liaising with their accountant and financial advisors.

Following that, steps such as making life insurance claims, notifying banks, superannuation funds and checking the insurance status of large assets are taken. Some assets may need to be sold and tax returns may also need to be lodged.

The specific steps that need to be taken will to a large extent depend on the terms of the Will and the deceased person’s assets and liabilities.

Usually an estate is administered within 12 or so months of the date of death however things such as claims for family provision orders under the Succession Act and other matters adding complexity can delay this.

What if the named executor has passed away?

If a named executor has passed away, then depending on whether they obtained probate before their death, either that executor’s executor or any substitute executor named in the Will takes over.

If there is a Will but there is no person named as executor or no named executor or alternate executor that is alive, then Letters of Administration with the Will annexed can be applied for and the Court appoints an administrator (in place of an executor) to administer the estate as set out in the Will.

What if there is no Will?

If a person dies without leaving a Will, they have died intestate and the relevant legislation details how their estate is distributed.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information, 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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Renouncing probate

Once a person has died, the executors named in their Will generally need to apply for Probate

Often the person making a Will has appointed all of their children as executors however, as many people relocate interstate or overseas for work, it may not be practical for one or more of them to act in the role of an executor of an estate.

Being out of the jurisdiction is not a problem in relation to being an executor, but it can slow down matters as getting documents signed and in dealing with institutions and things like verification of identity can be cumbersome. There is no requirement for a named executor to act as such.

There is a process that allows one or more of the named executors to leave it to  the other/s to deal with the estate – this is known as “renunciation“. So what is renouncing probate?

Renouncing probate simply means that you are renouncing the rights, powers and responsibilities of being an executor of a Will. Once you have renounced your role as executor, you may not later seek to be, or act as, executor of the estate unless the Supreme Court allows it.

To renounce your role, you must not have intermeddled (dealt with estate property) or undertaken any significant steps in relation to the estate.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information, 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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Family provision orders

Under the Succession Act 2006 (NSW), eligible persons may apply to the Supreme Court of New South Wales for a family provision order in relation to the estate or notional* estate of a deceased person to provide “for their maintenance, education or advancement in life”.

The first hurdle to overcome is being an “eligible person” and the second is whether the provision (if any) made for the applicant in the deceased’s Will** is adequate, and if not, what “family provision order” could be made to make it adequate. Unfortunately, this process is not as simple as we have explained it.

Limitation period

Claims for provision must be made within 12 months of the date of death of the deceased person (although in limited circumstanced, this time limit can be extended).

Process

After proceedings are commenced and the parties have put on the majority of their evidence, applications for family provision orders are generally referred to either a Court annexed mediation or to private mediation but if no agreement can be reached, the matter will be set down for hearing.

Eligibility

Those who are “eligible” to make a claim for a family provision order out of a deceased person’s estate include:

  • a spouse of the deceased at the time of the deceased’s death;
  • a former spouse of the deceased;
  • a person in a de facto relationship with the deceased at the time of death
  • children (including adopted children) of the deceased;
  • someone with whom the deceased was in a close personal relationship*** with at the time of their death;
  • those who have, at any time, been wholly or partly dependent upon the deceased and who either:
    • are a grandchild of the deceased; or
    • were, at any time, member of a household of which the deceased a member.

How do you know if you are to receive an inheritance?

Click here to read about how to get a copy of a deceased person’s will.

Adequacy

The Court won’t simply rewrite a deceased person’s Will based on claims of justice or unfairness such as unequally dividing an estate between siblings. The Court has a wide discretion in determining these matters and the nature of any order for provision that may be made.

The Court first considers if the gift (if any) was adequate and if not, what provision may be adequate.

The Court exercises is discretion to make an order and if so, on what terms, after considering the following factors:

  1. any family or other relationship between the applicant and the deceased, including the nature and duration of the relationship,
  2. the nature and extent of any obligations or responsibilities owed by the deceased to the applicant, to any other person in respect of whom an application has been made for a family provision order or to any beneficiary of the deceased’s estate,
  3. the nature and extent of the deceased’s estate (including any property that is, or could be, designated as notional estate* of the deceased person) and of any liabilities or charges to which the estate is subject, as in existence when the application is being considered,
  4. the financial resources (including earning capacity) and financial needs, both present and future, of the applicant, of any other person in respect of whom an application has been made for a family provision order or of any beneficiary of the deceased person’s estate (that is the competing needs/claims of others),
  5. if the applicant is cohabiting with another person–the financial circumstances of the other person,
  6. any physical, intellectual or mental disability of the applicant, any other person in respect of whom an application has been made for a family provision order or any beneficiary of the deceased’s estate that is in existence when the application is being considered or that may reasonably be anticipated,
  7. the age of the applicant when the application is being considered,
  8. any contribution (whether financial or otherwise) by the applicant to the acquisition, conservation and improvement of the estate of the deceased person or to the welfare of the deceased or the deceased’s family, whether made before or after the deceased’s death, for which adequate consideration (not including any pension or other benefit) was not received, by the applicant,
  9. any provision made for the applicant by the deceased, either during the deceased’s life or made from the deceased’s estate,
  10. any evidence of the testamentary intentions of the deceased, including evidence of statements made by the deceased,
  11. whether the applicant was being maintained, either wholly or partly, by the deceased before the deceased’s death and, if the Court considers it relevant, the extent to which and the basis on which the deceased did so,
  12. whether any other person is liable to support the applicant,
  13. the character and conduct of the applicant before and after the date of the deceased’s death,
  14. the conduct of any other person before and after the date of the deceased’s death,
  15. any relevant Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander customary law,
  16. any other matter the Court considers relevant, including matters in existence at the time of the deceased’s death or at the time the application is being considered.

*Where assets that were previously assets of the deceased prior to death (such as assets gifted or transferred by the deceased to another person or entity prior to death to attempt to avoid an application for an order for provision, superannuation, property owned as joint tenants between the deceased and another person), be considered as an asset of the estate for the purposes of an application for a family provision order.

**Note that even in intestacy (where there is no Will), an application can be made for a family provision order.

*** 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 organization.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to Wills, Probate, Intestacy, 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

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

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 the executor 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.