The lines of succession have been challenged in a recent family provision claim case overseen by the Supreme Court of NSW. In particular, a man has sought to be awarded his father’s full estate in place of his absent step-mother.
This unique case shows just how difficult it can be to distribute assets when the deceased has passed away without a valid will. Even with a widow who has not been seen since 1999, the son was still required to contact contesting wills lawyers to revoke her right on his father’s estate.
A disappearing bride
When the deceased died in November 2012 he had only one child and, although still officially married to the missing woman, was not in a relationship at the time of his death.
The 1999 marriage – the deceased’s second union – lasted only a few months before the pair officially separated. The son claims that his father lived with the woman for only six weeks prior to her disappearance.
After arriving from Thailand in 1998 on a three month visa, the woman met the deceased through a dating organisation in March 1999. The couple were then married in May that year. Several weeks after the wedding, the woman left her new husband – claiming to be unhappy and allegedly revealing she had only married him to be able to stay in Australia.
The deceased then informed the police and other authorities of the woman’s disappearance but investigations revealed no trace.
After his father’s death, the plaintiff resumed searching for his step-mother in order to inform her of her rights on intestacy.
While the deceased had made a will in 1998, this document had been ruled invalid due to his marriage in 1999. This will had named the plaintiff as the sole beneficiary if he outlived his father and grandfather.
The Court’s decision
Despite the unique nature of this inheritance dispute, the Supreme Court of NSW took all the normal precautions when deciding on the son’s claim to the estate.
His claim was not considered strong because his relationship with his father was a distant one, with no financial reliance. Additionally, his own family’s assets were substantial.
However, as the deceased and his widow’s marriage was voided by separation within a few weeks and authorities were unable to track down the woman, the Court ruled that she held no further claim to the estate.
This meant that the son was able to successfully claim his father’s full estate under the laws of succession and intestacy.
If you are facing a challenging inheritance dispute, get in touch with Gerard Malouf and Partners for further advice and guidance.