Will disputes can be difficult and emotional for everyone involved, so if you’re thinking about challenging a Will, it’s important to understand what you may be getting yourself into. If you do successfully contest a Will, the results can transform your life.
If you are considering challenging a Will, you should act quickly, as there are strict time limits that differ across states. If you think you’ve been left out of a Will, or you have been left nominal provision in a Will, you should obtain legal advice as soon as you can to find out your legal rights and whether you can challenge the Will.
Before challenging a Will, you’ll need to consider the emotional costs of a Will dispute. People who challenge Wills are usually grieving the loss of a loved one and sometimes feel rejected by their families. Plus, litigation can be stressful – both emotionally and financially.
A success story
If you do proceed with contesting a Will, you can prevail. I recently represented a woman named Claire*, whose mother, Janet*, had passed away, leaving a Will and a large estate. Claire was left completely out of Janet’s Will, with most of the estate gifted to her sister, Marie.
Janet had left Claire out of her Will because Claire had been an unwanted pregnancy. Sadly, Janet resented Claire for most of her life, and the two were estranged for many years, as Janet refused contact with Claire. Janet also suffered from alcohol-related problems and was abusive towards Claire.
About five years before she died, Janet went into a nursing home. Claire tried to make amends with Janet. This time, she was successful, and the two women developed a relationship. Claire regularly went to see Janet, and they began to enjoy being together. They finally had a good relationship.
By this time, Janet had already made her Will and, due to her failing health, had no opportunity to change it. Meanwhile, Claire was divorced, living in community housing and reliant on income from Centrelink while suffering from various medical conditions and being unable to work. She had no assets to secure her future, and her financial position was poor.
After Janet passed away, Claire found out that she’d been completely left out of Janet’s Will. Claire took this news very hard – she felt unwanted and rejected by her mother all over again. After obtaining legal advice, Claire decided to contest the Will. Claire’s case never went to trial, as the parties were able to negotiate and settle Claire’s claim at mediation. Claire received a significant portion of the estate. Claire later told me that the money she had received as a result of challenging the Will would be life-changing.
A compelling case
For me, this was a particularly compelling case, as my client had done nothing wrong. The fact that my client was left out of the Will was in no way her fault, as her mother had, quite simply, taken a disliking to her from birth. I advised my client that her mother did have a duty to provide for her in her Will, and ultimately, my client was successful in obtaining that proper provision.
Finally, helping my client financially was extremely gratifying. My client was a kind and gentle woman who had fallen on hard times throughout her life. As a Will disputes lawyer, I found it very rewarding to see my client benefit and be in a position to move her life forward in a positive direction as a result of successfully challenging a Will.
If you think you, too, have a compelling case for contesting a Will and have considered the emotional and financial ramifications of moving forward, seek legal advice sooner rather than later. You’ll not only gain an understanding of your legal rights, but also may change your life for the better.
*We have changed names to protect the privacy of those involved.
Narelle Neagle is a Senior Associate in Maurice Blackburn’s Melbourne office.