Step-children make inheritance disputes on uncle’s estate

Published 06 May 2014

The specific wording contained within a will has driven two individuals to issue an inheritance dispute on their step-uncle’s estate.

In a case recently seen by the NSW Supreme Court, the difference between step-children and children became an issue of contention, in regards to the intentions of the deceased.

The difference between step-child and child

When the deceased passed away in 2007, a will he had created in 1994 clearly outlined specific gifts to be awarded to his numerous beneficiaries, including the step-children of his sisters. Within the document, the deceased and his executor had clearly named his nieces and nephews as separate beneficiaries.

Additionally, a few of the man’s friends and favoured charities and foundations were also bequeathed specific gifts from the estate, including $2,000 to his local church and various religious organisations.

However, the many gifts he bequeathed did not cover the full extent of his estate. From there, the man outlined a number of residuary bequests, offering individuals and groups a percentage of the remaining assets.

The will detailed that any assets the deceased had owed were to be sold off and the funds acquired from these sales would then be distributed among his beneficiaries as he intended. For example, the deceased wished that a third (33.3 per cent) of the estate would be given to a single sister.

Additionally, 25 per cent of the remaining estate was bequeathed to his other sister, with the clause that if she should die before him, her share would be passed instead to her child or children.

It was this specific wording that inspired the sister’s step-children to contest the will. After the death, the executor of the will assumed the deceased had intended the residual gift to be given only to the direct decedents of his sister, not her children by marriage. This was supported by the fact that the deceased had specifically used the terms ‘step-nephew’ and ‘step-niece’ previously in the will.

As the biological child was then awarded the full amount bequest to his mother, his step-brother and step-sister then contacted a contesting wills lawyer in an attempt to recover some of this money.

In this particular case, the Supreme Court decided in the favour of the defendants. As the deceased had clearly separated his biological nephews and nieces from his step-family in previous sections of the will, the Court ruled his intentions were for the sole child to receive the full gift.

If a family member has passed away and you do not agree with the wording within their will, you may want to contact a contesting wills lawyer to make an official inheritance dispute.

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