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Time limits apply to contesting a will

Time limits to contest a will

Time limits under succession law on family provision limit when you can contest a will.  Most states and territories family provision legislation provide for some time limit. 

Often the period is six months but it can vary. The time period might start from the date of death or from when probate is granted. 

If you are thinking of challenging a deceased person’s will, and you are an eligible person under the law, it is important to be mindful of the time limit. 

To find out time limits in your state or territory see the legislation on family provision or testator’s family maintenance in this table, or consult a local solicitor. 

Outside the time limit?

If the time period has passed all is not lost to make an application although it will be difficult.  It depends on the circumstances as to why. 

Most legislation provides the Court with a discretion to extend the time within which to make an application, but it is not automatic and the Court’s permission to file must be sought first. Legal assistance is essential.

How can you know if you have been left anything?  In recent times wills and succession legislation has been amended so that certain people can see a deceased person’s will.  
In Western Australia a farmer’s son sought an extension of time from the Court of almost seven years in which to challenge the will of his deceased father.  His father had died in 2008, and probate granted later that year. His mother was the executor and sole beneficiary of the estate, estimated at the time of death at around $7 million.  The father had not left any provision in his will for the son nor his sister. The son lodged an application to challenge the deceased’s will for provision out of the deceased’s estate.  Such application is governed by the Family Provision Act 1972 (WA).

Time limits in Western Australia

Family Provision legislation in Western Australia provides for a six month time limit within which to contest a will.  The time starts ticking from when a grant of probate has been issued: section 7 of the Family Provision Act 1972 (WA): ‘who can apply for provision from deceased’s estate’. That is, the time from when the administrator is entitled to administer the estate of the deceased in Western Australia.

Can the time limit be extended?

If the six months has passed, the Court’s permission to lodge an application must be obtained first before actually going ahead. As noted above, the legislation provides the Court with a discretion to extend the time to apply, but to do so the Court must be satisfied that the justice of the case requires it.

In this case the Court noted the various legal principles on exercising the discretion which have been developed and applied from case law.  They include:

  • considering whether there have been any negotiations with the defendant;
  • the onus is on the plaintiff to establish sufficient grounds for why they are not within the general rule and depriving those who are protected by it out of its benefits;
  • whether or not the estate has been distributed before a claim was made or notified;
  • whether a refusal to extend time would leave the applicant (plaintiff) without redress against anybody;
  • consider how promptly and in what circumstances the plaintiff has sought an extension of time;
  • whether solicitors had failed to act promptly, so the applicant had to drive the matter.

What is in the interests of justice

The Master deciding the application noted from case authorities that while such principles are a guide, they are not a code.   Citing the Court of Appeal (WA) he said the important question was what was in the interests of justice.  On the evidence before him he found the plaintiff’s claim was arguable.  There was no doubt in his view that the plaintiff had an arguable case. 

Length of delay and failure to account for it

However, in weighing all the matters, it was the length of the delay and the failure of the plaintiff to adequately explain that delay which were overwhelming factors against granting an extension of time. The Court said that despite the plaintiff potentially having a claim, when all the factors were taken together it was not in the interests of justice to grant the extension of time sought.  The application was dismissed.

 


Wheatley v Wheatley [2016] WASC 248

B Stead
BHS Legal
Updated 9 September 2021

 

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

© BHS Legal

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Statue of Themis, Goddess of Justice, time limits, family provision claims, contesting a will
Statue of Themis, Goddess of Justice, Supreme Court of Queensland, B Stead.