“Contrary intention” in succession law and will-making

Broken Hill Courthouse - Coat of Arms, early Australian courthouses, Australian legal history, Australian Colonial courthouses,contrary intention

Contrary intention are words used in Australian succession legislation on wills and the administration of deceased estates. Some examples are given below of the range of matters where the law allows for a willmaker to express a contrary intention in their will to the statutory rule.

Where a provision of succession legislation contains these words, it means that the statutory rule can be displaced, that is not apply in the administration of their estate, if a willmaker has expressed a different intention on the matter in their will as to what they want to have happen.  A contrary intention may be expressed in a will or appear in a will.


Meaning of words in a will – resolving differences in a farmland context

meaning of will, farm succession, farm inheritance, meaning of plant and equipmentThe meaning of words and phrases used by a willmaker when leaving a specific gift may adequately express their intentions, at least to them at the time.  However sometimes matters connected with the gift may arise down the track during administration of the estate.

These may generate uncertainty for executors as to the right course of action when distributing the estate to the beneficiaries according to the deceased’s will. In a recent Western Australian case1 the executors sought directions from the Court concerning the interpretation of a clause disposing of farmland.


Meaning of stepchild when contesting a will

Inheritance in domestic relationships and stepchildren

stepchild, family provision, testator's family maintenance, A stepchild’s eligibility under the statutory rules for seeking provision from a step-parent’s deceased estate can be difficult.

In a Victorian case1 the executor of a deceased estate applied to the Supreme Court to have a claim for family provision dismissed.

The claim was brought by the adult daughter of the deceased’s former domestic partner, who had died some years before.  She had been left out of his will, despite assurances and promises to the contrary. The deceased had left everything to his new domestic partner.


Stepchild contesting a step-parent’s will – Queensland

stepchild, willshub, step-parent, family provision,When a stepchild has been left out of the will of a deceased step-parent

In a Queensland case1 a stepchild sought provision out of the estate of his step-mother, a widow.  Her husband, and the applicant’s father had pre-deceased her. She had no children of her own, that is no natural children, so no descendants: only the applicant her step-child, and he was an only child.

Before the applicant’s father died, he and his wife each made wills in similar terms.  Basically these were all to each other, then on the first to die, in equal proportions to the the applicant and a nephew.


Severing a joint tenancy unilaterally

joint tenants, tenancy, death, severing a joint tenancy, co-ownership, dies, inheritance, succession, WillsHub
Many couples own their home together as joint tenants under a joint tenancy.  Under a joint tenancy an important legal consequence to remember with this type of property co-ownership is the legal right of survivorship.

The right of survivorship means that when the first owner dies, their interest in the property is automatically absorbed so that the surviving owner now owns the whole property, see graphic. This is due to the operation of law and is independent of a will.

When the survivor dies, the property then passes according to their will, or if no will left, according to the intestacy rules. For people co-owning property as joint tenants, it is therefore important to review their situations and wills on a regular basis to ensure outcomes on death are what is wanted.


Estranged child left out of a will – claiming family provision

An estranged daughter, one of two sisters and the only children of their deceased mother, were engaged in legal proceedings in a contest over their mother’s deceased estate.1 In The Supreme Court of New South Wales, it was said that

The case provides yet another example of the high level of emotion that is generated in relation to the distribution of the property of a parent, particularly in circumstances where there is said to have been an estrangement between the Plaintiff and the deceased for some years prior to the death of the deceased.


When the deceased’s will seems lost or missing – where to enquire?

lost original will, missing wills, When the original will of a deceased person can’t be found, the task of finalising their affairs and administering their estate becomes more complicated, time-consuming and costly.  It is therefore worthwhile to undertake methodical searches of the deceased’s residence, thoroughly searching high and low for a will or testamentary document, including the garage, shed and the like.  But what else can be done? Some suggestions follow as to where enquiries might be made. More

Step-grandchildren described as “descendants” and “children”- can they inherit?

Step-grandchildren, will-making, descendants, childrenSome grandparents like to leave something to their grandchildren in their will.  If they have step-grandchildren as well, as is increasingly likely these days, are they to be included in the will too?

If grandparents intend step-grandchildren in their extended family to benefit under their will, then to assist their executors for the efficient administration of their estate, it would be helpful if they could make that clear in their will, as a recent New South Wales case has highlighted.


When no will is left

When no will is left by a deceased person they are said to have died intestateDying intestate means that their property and things are distributed according to the legal rules on intestacy made by the Parliament in the state or territory where they lived.  Sometimes a person may have left a will, but for some reason a problem arises so that not all of the property can be disposed of.


Personal possessions – interpreting their meaning and entitlements

personal possessions, deceased estate, will making, Personal possessions, personal items, belongings or effects and similar expressions are often used by willmakers to leave instructions on what they want done with such things.

The executor’s role is to administer the estate of a deceased person in accordance with the terms of their will.  The case law shows that occasionally a term causes uncertainty for an executor as to what the willmaker intended in their choice of words or expressions.  What did they mean? What did they want to have happen, and how may their executor or personal representative resolve this dilemma with confidence that they are doing the right thing?

Executors seeking advice

If faced with a difficult dilemma as to what to do, executors can apply to the Supreme Court for an opinion, advice or direction on any question respecting the management or administration of trust property, under s 63 of the Trustee Act 1925 (NSW).


Personal items in a deceased estate

personal items, personal effects, belongings, deceased estate, will, willmaking, testator, personal thingsPersonal items can have important sentimental value.  They may be family heirlooms passed down to keep within the family, with unique stories to tell.  Personal items may have little commercial value, or maybe of significant monetary worth in the case of jewellery, antiques, artworks and the like.

What might “personal items” mean in succession law?  What happens if you don’t leave any instructions as to who takes your personal things and you die intestate? Who is entitled under the law to take your personal items then?  More

Renouncing executorship and probate – when an executor does not wish to act


Renouncing probate is what you can do if you are named as executor in a deceased person’s will, and do not want to take on the role.  You are not obliged to, but you need to take steps to put that into effect as soon as practical.

Note, if you are looking for executor services, you can find a lawyer or law firm to do this by contacting the law society in your state/territory for referrals: links here. 
Alternatively the public trustee in your state/territory, links here, also provides executor services, as do some non-government providers including banks, even if they were not consulted when the will was made.    

renouncing probate, right of probate, right to renounce, renouncing executorship, executor,

Coat of Arms on the Old Supreme Courthouse, Sydney, New South Wales.

Can an executor resign?
There is no requirement that a named executor in a will  must accept the role of executorship, even if you had agreed with the willmaker that you would.

If you don’t wish to act when the time comes, and you have not dealt with estate property, you can give up the right to do so.  It means you give up your appointment as an executor, commonly called renouncing probate. In renouncing probate you are renouncing the executorship, in other words resigning.  It means you renounce or give up your right to apply for probate of the deceased’s will; sometimes expressed as to ‘renounce probate’.


Nieces and nephews – leaving them an inheritance

By B Stead

Meaning of “nieces and nephews” – the general assumption

Nieces and nephews in wills, nieces and nephews, whole blood, half blood, ancestors, common ancestorOur nieces and nephews are the children of our brothers and sisters, this hardly needs saying.  If someone wishes to leave a gift to their “nieces and nephews” in their will, it should be a simple matter, when the time comes, to identify which individuals are a niece or a nephew and so entitled to share in the inheritance.   However circumstances and relationship may change from the time a will is made to the date of death.

Probate – a grant of probate – what is probate?

Administration of a deceased person’s estate – proving the validity of a will

By B Stead
probateProbate is the official process to establish or prove, whether a deceased person’s will or testamentary document is valid and intended to be their last will.

A grant of probate is the document issued by the Court of Probate after the examination process.  A type of grant of representation, it is an order of the Court certifying that the executor (or personal representative) named in the document is lawfully authorised to administer the estate of the deceased person. More

Court costs when contesting a will for family provision – who pays?

By B Stead

Court costs in contesting a will may run into thousands.

court costs, costs of proceedings, family provision, testator's family maintenance, If you are thinking of making a claim for family provision under a will, despite all efforts to find a solution, including mediation, don’t assume that your costs will be paid out of the estate; at least in New South Wales.  What happens  depends on individual circumstances.

In recent years the New South Wales Supreme Court has made it clear that the expectation that the costs of making a family provision claim will automatically be paid out of the estate, has been “thoroughly discredited.”1