Disputing the interpretation of ambiguous Will provisions

Published 08 Jul 2013

Even when next of kin agree with the provisions made in a Will, Inheritance Disputes can arise based on disagreements in the way that the Executor interprets them.

The complexity of interpreting one Will can further be exacerbated when another Will enters into the frame.

When this occurs, Contesting Wills lawyers can offer expert guidance and knowledge on how to proceed.

A case heard before the NSW Supreme Court this year provides an example of both the ease with which different interpretations can arise and the capacity that benefactors have to take action to clarify what they perceive is the correct meaning of a phrase, or even a word, in a loved one’s Will.

The circumstances of the case in question were that the deceased had left a considerable amount of shares held in public companies to his wife, upon his death.

A provision in the deceased’s Will allowed that his wife could do with these as she pleased, but that otherwise there was the condition that ultimately the shares, or what remained of them, were to pass to the deceased’s two nephews.

The inheritance dispute came about when the wife passed away a few years later while still in possession of $6-7 million worth of the shares.

Her Will directed that the shares were to pass to four charities, as part of her residuary estate.

Thus, the contest here was between the two nephews of the deceased and the Executors of the deceased’s late wife’s Estate, who were essentially acting in the interests of the four charities specified in the latter’s Will.

The legal arguments on either side turned on whether the original provision of the shares from the deceased to his wife was an absolute gift or a conditional one.

In the end, the plaintiffs (the nephews) were successful and were judged to be entitled to obtain the shares.

When a Will is ambiguous it can give rise to varied interpretations. This can lead to disagreements and disputes over the correct distribution of assets and over the conditions applied to gifts.

It may not be obvious what the best course of action to take is to pursue an Inheritance Dispute, and this is where expert legal advice can play a crucial role.

If you are involved in an Inheritance Dispute, get in touch with a specialist Contesting Wills lawyer today.

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