If you die without leaving a will you are said to die “intestate”. In the absence of instructions left in a valid will, who will inherit your property? Succession law contains strict rules to deal with this problem.
Why make a will and what can it do? Dying without leaving a will, or leaving an invalid one, is to die intestate. Dying intestate means property left by the deceased, their estate, is distributed according to the intestacy law. The intestacy law has been prescribed by legislation as the ‘default’ rules to apply in these circumstances. The problem is that the intestacy formula for distribution may not produce the desired outcome.
Leaving a legally valid will is important for it to be effective. A will documents a person’s intentions for what they want to have happen when they die. To make a legally valid will means complying with all the prescribed legal requirements. Making a valid will according to law is important to its effectiveness. Who else needs to sign a will?
A will documents a person’s intentions for what they want to have happen when they die, see What is a will. It contains their instructions on who is to inherit their property and how, who will administer its disposal and any preferred arrangements for their funeral. If their intentions are to be legally effective, and ultimately put into effect, the will needs to be valid and comply with the legal rules.
A will is a testamentary document, often referred to by lawyers as an ‘instrument’, setting out what a person intends to have happen to their property, (real and personal), and other matters, when they die.
It is the legal way to record a person’s instructions and wishes on how they want their property distributed on the event of their death, and who is to responsible for carrying out those wishes.
Because it is to take effect only on death, a will is referred to as being ‘testamentary’.
A testamentary document or instrument is one which its writer intends, at the time of writing it, to come into effect when they die, and not before. It is where a person sets out their intentions for the distribution of their property when they die.
Intestate means dying without a will. But sometimes even if a person has left a will there may be a partial intestacy. This is when the will does not effectively dispose of all of their property. If that happens the identified property falls into the residue of the estate and distributed according to what the person’s will states about disposal of the residue, and if silent, then according to the statutory intestacy rules.
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Who can make a will to dispose of their property? Who can make a will? To make a will a person must be an adult and have the required mental capacity.
A will made by a minor, being under 18, is generally invalid under State and Territory wills and succession legislation.
Exceptions relate to contemplation of marriage, or altering or cancelling a prior will. If the contemplated marriage does not take place, the will is invalid. The court may authorise a minor to make, alter or cancel a will.
A home made will is one prepared by the willmaker themselves, perhaps using a “will kit” and without without the services of a lawyer and the benefit of individual legal advice. This may seem an economical and convenient approach to will-making. While a lawyer’s costs are avoided at this step, there is the potential is …
An outline of a how a gift over works in a will. A gift over in a will is when the person designated to receive it has died, the gift then passes over to a substitute person, if so named to take.The substitute beneficiary only inherits if the main beneficiary has already died, not survived the deceased or died before attaining a vested interest.
An early inheritance of a mortgage-free home was given to the younger daughter at the time of her marriage. It was well understood by all family members at the time that the other older daughter would receive her inheritance when the last parent died. However things didn’t go to plan.
Probate applications require production of the original will. But what if the original can’t be found? In certain circumstances a Court will recognise a lost will and admit a copy of it to probate.
Testamentary freedom is being free to dispose of your property how and to whom you wish. One Supreme Court judge said that this freedom of testamentary disposition is a “prominent feature of the Australian legal system. Its significance is both practical and symbolic and should not be underestimated.”1
Of course like all freedoms it should be used reasonably.
Normally under Australian succession law marriage cancels a will (that is revokes the will) – unless the will was made in contemplation of marriage. In some states and the ACT testamentary arrangements can be made in contemplation of entering into a registered relationship or partnership.
Time limits apply under family provision law within which to contest or challenge a will. If this time has passed it is possible to apply to the Court for an extension, but whether it is granted will depend on the circumstances. In this case the application was unsuccessful, being some years out of time.
Image: Coat of Arms, Broken Hill Courthouse, NSW, by B Stead.
Many provisions in state and territory legislation on succession and wills allow for a willmaker to express a contrary intention in their will to override 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.
“The range of “risks” to which a will maker, his or her property, interested parties or members of the legal profession may be subject is probably infinite in its dimensions. Risk cannot be eliminated from life, or, it seems, from death.“ The Hon Justice Lindsay, Equity Division, Supreme Court of New South Wales, Seminar presentation …
The meaning of words and phrases used by a will-maker 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, raising questions of interpretation.
Sometimes an unsigned will is left in situations where the willmaker, in consultation with lawyers, has been in the process of making a new will, but died before the requirements to make a valid legal document were completed. Why an unsigned will? Leaving such a testamentary document raises important questions. Did the deceased approve of …
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.
In a Queensland case a stepchild was left out of the will of a step-parent. He subsequently sought provision from his step-mother’s estate. She had no natural children of her own. Her husband, the applicant’s father, had pre-deceased her. The applicant was her only step-child. In another situation a claim was brought by seven step-children for adequate provision out of their deceased stepmother’s estate.
Elder abuse can take different forms. It can range across financial, psychological, physical and emotional neglect causing harm and distress to the older person. It may be intentional or not. Critical issues having potential to generate abuse of older ones involve legal capacity, and undue influence in entering into guarantees for family members and others, and reverse mortgages. Carers misusing their influence is another area. Financial abuse can surface in various ways, one in particular is placing pressure on an older person to make or change their will.
Why sever a joint tenancy? Owning property with others in co-ownership can be either as joint tenants or tenants in common. The consequences of who inherits a co-owner’s share on death are different. It is important to bear this in mind when planning ahead and will-making so your interests go to who you want. …
Estranged daughter An estranged daughter contested her mother’s will. She and her sister were the only children of the deceased.1 Contesting the will of a parent is highly emotional, stressful and damaging to family relations. As observed by the Supreme Court of New South Wales: The case provides yet another example of the high level …
Missing wills or a lost will seem to be more common than one would think. Some people store important personal documents in unusual places without informing their executor where. Here are some suggestions on next steps after a thorough search has not been successful.