Nieces and nephews – leaving them an inheritance

Updated 14 October 2019.

Nieces and nephews – the general assumption

Nieces and nephews in wills, nieces and nephews, whole blood, half blood, ancestors, common ancestorNieces 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 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.

“Nieces and nephews” includes children of step-brothers and sisters

In succession law, when the expression “nephews and nieces” is used in a will, it includes children of brothers and sisters as in the ordinary meaning, and children of step-brothers and step-sisters.  Reference is sometimes made to nephews and nieces by blood (meaning two common ancestors) and of the half-blood (one common parent).  The graphic below seeks to show this in regard to the nieces and nephews of the figure outlined in orange .

Nieces and nephews in wills, nieces and nephews, whole blood, half blood, ancestors, common ancestor

The general meaning in Australian succession law of “nieces and nephews”. The assumption is that both those of the whole blood and those of the half blood are included, for example the children of your step sister or brother. This is how the law generally interprets these words when used in a will to work out who is entitled. If you want to exclude or include anyone then state that clearly in your will.

Nieces and nephews – what is intended?

When leaving a gift to nephews and nieces in a will, make it clear who you want included, and excluded as the case may be.   As relationships and circumstances can change, review your will and update it  so that you intentions are properly documented.

A will-maker provided in her will that her estate was to go to her de facto partner if he survived her by a defined period of time.  If he didn’t survive her, then the estate was to be divided equally among those of her nieces and nephews still living.1

Identifying who takes

The partner did not outlive the deceased by the stated period.  It was then a question of identifying the nieces and nephews. There were some according to the ordinary meaning as well as children of the deceased’s step-siblings, one parent having re-married.  All of these would be included in the category under the  legal meaning of nephews and nieces, unless she had stated something different or contrary, to that in her will.

However the deceased’s de facto partner’s brother had children, and sometimes she had referred to them as her nephew or niece.  Did she intend they were to be included in her gift?

The executors applied to the Court for advice and construction of the will.2  Noting the difficulties, the Court declared that on the true construction of the will and the events which had occurred, the residuary estate was to be distributed to the nieces and nephews of the whole blood,3 and those of the half-blood,4 but not to include the children of the brother of the deceased de facto partner.


1. Parry v Haisma [2012] NSWSC 290.
2.  Executors, administrators and trustees can approach the Court for advice or direction when they are unsure of how to proceed in circumstances of ambiguity about the meaning of words, clauses in a will.  Trustee legislation mostly provides for this, for example in New South Wales section 65, ‘Advice” of the Trustee Act 1925 (NSW).  Legal assistance and advice should be sought.
3.  Whole blood relations: two common ancestors.
4.  Half-blood relations: one common ancestor.

B Stead
BHS Legal
Updated 14 October 2019

Important notice: This article is intended for general interest and information only. It is not legal advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for legal advice. Always consult a legal practitioner and/or other professional for specialist advice specific to your needs and circumstances, and rely on that.

© BHS Legal

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