Family relationships can be complex at the best of times, let alone following a death, and it is not uncommon for family members to cease contact with one another. Estrangement has many causes, some significant, others not; it might be the result of a traumatic and dysfunctional upbringing or it might be caused by a difference of opinion. If you find yourself excluded from a Will because you were estranged from the deceased, it can be an upsetting experience. But nobody needs to go through it alone.
Here we look at a couple of recent Will disputes and their outcomes.
Frances was born with a physical disability. Her parents found it difficult to cope with her care. Her father abandoned the family when Frances was about two years old, leaving Frances’s mother as her sole carer. When Frances was about six years old she was placed in foster care, where she was raised by her foster family. Frances had no contact with her mother again until she was in her late twenties.
After re-connecting, Frances and her mother started spending time together every now and then. This contact was maintained for a few years before it stopped again. Shortly before her mother died, Frances was contacted and told that her mother had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and was asking to see her. Frances visited her mother in hospital regularly in the last weeks of her life. When Frances’s mother died, most of her estate was left to non-family members.
Frances was not well off financially. Her health had deteriorated and her medical expenses were substantial. She sought advice about challenging her mother’s Will to help her meet significant medical and other bills. Frances and her legal team negotiated her claim without needing to go to court, with Frances receiving enough money to secure her future.
Frank was in his early sixties and was one of two children. When his mother died, she left her entire estate to Frank’s sister. Frank’s relationship with his mother had been distant for many years; his mother had told Frank that she didn’t agree with his 'homosexual lifestyle'. Frank suspected that this was probably the main reason why his mother excluded him from her Will, though Frank was never told this.
At the time of his mother’s death, Frank was living in rented accommodation and had very few assets of his own. He sought advice about challenging the Will and he was told that he had a claim even though he had not seen his mother for a number of years. Frank and his legal team negotiated a settlement that provided him with enough money to give him greater financial independence.
Every case is unique
Estrangement and family disputes can cause long-term financial and emotional stress for anyone involved. When a family member dies, emotions can often take over and make it difficult to think clearly about a claim.
The most important thing is to speak to a lawyer straight away, especially as strict time limits apply to applications for contesting a Will. A good legal team understands the intricacies of contesting a Will and tailors its advice to suit your needs, ultimately to ensure the best outcome.
Andrew Simpson is a Principal in Maurice Blackburn's Melbourne office.