Missing satchel causes headaches when contesting a will

Published 18 Jun 2014

Despite preparing many wills during his lifetime, the estate of a NSW man still came under dispute when executors could not decide which document should count as his last. In particular, a missing satchel is expected to be the cause of this contesting wills case.

The deceased, known in the Supreme Court of NSW as Jim, died having never married or lived in a de facto relationship. He had no children and only distant relatives.

It was therefore unsurprising that the wills prepared by the deceased, with help from various friends and solicitors, offered significant portions of his $5 million estate to a number of charities.

When his home was searched, the police uncovered a red folder that contained the series of wills the deceased had created over the years. Prior to 2008, each previous will had been marked as revoked or followed by an eligible replacement document.

However, the will created in 2008, while torn in half, had been stapled back together. Further to this, the 2009 document was included in such a way that the beneficiaries became suspicious regarding its validity, particularly as the original of the 2009 will seemed to be missing, with just a carbon copy included in the red folder.

The Supreme Court and contesting wills lawyers were contacted by the deceased’s extended family after they reviewed the situation and claimed the deceased should be considered as having died interstate.

Part of the decision to contest the will may have been inspired by the difference in beneficiary between the two proposed documents. While small gifts were made to the Australian War Memorial and Sydney Maritime Museum in the former will, these provisions were increased significantly in the 2009 document. This change impacted on the amount left to the deceased’s friends and family.

With some parties believed the 2008 will should be the one used to distribute the estate, the Courts considered a number of diary entries left by the deceased. In an entry dated March 14 2010, the deceased indicated he was searching for his will, which could mean he was aware the original copy was missing.

Friends of the deceased claimed that in his old age, the man had religiously carried a leather satchel with him everywhere. It was their belief that the valid will would have been kept within this bag. Unfortunately, the satchel has not been found.

Considering the evidence related to the destruction of the 2008 will, and the missing satchel, the Courts decided that the 2009 version of the will should be considered valid. This means that the charities received the bulk share of the deceased’s estate, and his family were not granted succession.

If a family member has died with multiple wills, or without a valid document, you may want to contact a contesting wills lawyer for more information about your options.

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