The third leading cause of death in Australia could be grounds for contesting a will

Published 26 Mar 2014

A report published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on Tuesday (March 25) reveals the leading causes of death in our country.

While heart disease is, and has been for the past 10 years, the biggest killer in Australia, the condition that currently ranks in second place has only recently come to light as a problem.

According to the report, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease was “the third leading cause of death” in 2012. It accounted for 10,369 or seven per cent of all deaths that year.

The majority of these deaths (95 per cent) occurred in people aged 75 years old or more.

James Eynstone-Hinkins, ABS Director of the Health and Vitals Statistics Unit, revealed that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease had overtaken cerebrovascular diseases as the second leading cause of death for women in 2012, while for men it had climbed to sixth place.

The growing predominance of this condition is a worry for anyone who has not yet spared a thought for estate planning, as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is one of the grounds a family member or loved on can use to contest a will you’ve made.

An example of this was recently provided by the New South Wales Court of Appeal, which in December last year heard a contesting wills case in which a person’s testamentary capacity – that is, their legal and mental ability to create a will – aroused suspicion.

Originally, the will of Stanley William Church – which was created in August 2009 – was deemed valid, despite the fact that Robert Church (Stanley’s half-brother) said the deceased lacked testamentary capacity at the time.

More specifically, Robert claimed that Stanley would not have been able to know and approve the contents of his will, and the document therefore didn’t reflect his true wishes. Stanley was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – a degenerative condition like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease – in 2003, and this caused him to suffer periods of confusion throughout the rest of his life.

Robert believed the judge who deemed the will valid had not taken these factors into consideration, and therefore decided to appeal the decision.

In this instance, Robert’s appeal was dismissed and Stanley’s assets remained with those his will had intended them for.

This was clearly a complex case, and illustrates the necessity of having an experienced contesting wills lawyer in your corner if and when contesting a will is your best option.

For more information, get in touch with Gerard Malouf Partners today.

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