It is worth noting what was said in a judgment from a recent case before the Supreme Court of New South Wales about adult children contesting their mother’s will for more. The Court said the following:
“…a testator is entitled to be unequal in the treatment of her children. Fairness and equality are not
required by the law. Within the limits of the law, testators may dispose of their estates as they see fit. Adult children have no automatic right to share in the estate of a parent. Nor do they have an automatic right to equality between them. That may be the system in European countries, including possibly in the Balkans, but it is not the law in Australia. As I have observed on several occasions, subject to the family provision sections of the Succession Act, freedom of testamentary disposition remains an integral part of our law:….”
And following on he added:
“Related to that point is a principle, …..that the courts naturally respect and give deference to the considered judgments of apparently rational and sensible testators.”1
The Hon. Justice Pembroke, Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
Inheritance in domestic relationships and stepchildren
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.
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.
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.
Costs of the parties in a recent probate litigation case1 from the South Australian Supreme Court, were ordered to be paid from the deceased’s estate. Following the trial Gray J gave reasons for making that costs order.2
Court costs in contesting a will may run into thousands.
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