Man fails to win inheritance dispute after representing himself

Published 16 Jan 2015

A man may be regretting his choice not to enlist the services of a contesting wills lawyer after he failed to win an inheritance dispute while representing himself in court.

The man challenged the will of a friend who died of oesophageal cancer in December 2013. She had left her entire estate, consisting of property in New South Wales, to a female friend.

The plaintiff, the beneficiary of the deceased’s estate, was trying to apply for grant of probate. However, the man – the defendant – filed a caveat to prevent the plaintiff from distributing the assets as outlined in the will.

According to court documents, the man contested the will’s validity on three counts: execution, capacity and testamentary approval. However, the judge drew specific attention to the “disorderly state” of the man’s evidence.

For example, he had made reference to a previous will that listed him as a beneficiary, but was unable to produce this in court. The man also tried to obtain adjournments in order to delay proceedings so he could secure expert witnesses.

These adjournments were rejected, with Justice Michael Slattery claiming the court had “no confidence” the additional time would have enabled the man to better present his case. The judge also said the defendant was not a credible witness, as he was prone to speculation and allegations of dishonesty against the deceased’s solicitor.

Contesting the will

The man contested the will’s execution on two primary fronts. He disputed the date it was signed, while also claiming the deceased’s name was not written using her normal signature.

Justice Slattery argued there was little evidence to suggest the will was written on a different date. In fact, the notion was rejected by one of the witnesses.

The judge acknowledged the signature was different, but said this was not unusual for a person who is signing their name from a hospital bed prior to their death.

In addition, the man challenged the woman’s capacity to write the will based on her poor eyesight, chronic sleepiness and the possibility of her being under the influence of hypnosis or drugs.

“In my view none of these matters are made out even to throw doubt upon the validity of the … will,” Mr Slattery stated.

Lastly, the man alleged the deceased’s knowledge and approval of the will were obtained through “trickery” by convincing her the document was merely an invoice.

The judge said this suggestion infers fraudulent behaviour on the part of the deceased’s solicitor – a witness Justice Slattery said was “thoroughly honest and professional”. As such, probate was granted to the plaintiff and the defendant’s inheritance dispute was dismissed.

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