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Is it possible to contest a Will?

Almost anyone who believes they have a right to someone’s inheritance can contest a Will. We explain when and how you can contest a Will in Australia.

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Contesting a Will? Here's a quick rundown to clear things up

You've planned all the contingencies. Done all the maths. Put in the time to protect your family's future by writing a Will.

But sometimes, life just happens.

Despite all of your best laid plans, you can't always predict how others will react. There may be family members disputes over inheritance or interference from former spouses or children from previous marriages. Then there's the risk of creditors coming out of the woodworks to make a claim on property or assets, after a person's death.

On top of this, the Will could be out-of-date, or missing a key asset you completely overlooked.

So many things can go wrong.

Most people assume it's all smooth sailing once a Will is completed and the estate is ready for administration. But that's rarely the case. An Australian study by social researchers Jill Wilson and Ben White in 2016 found about 75% of estate claims contested in court were successful.

That's a pretty scary statistic.

Anyone who thinks they have not been properly provided for by a Will may come forward with a valid claim to have a Will successfully contested and overturned. Whether it's because they believed the Will was written under undue influence, or they believed they were inadequately provided for as dependents or beneficiaries of the Will- they can make what's called a ‘Family Provision' claim.

But don't panic. To prevent the future uncertainty of ‘will they, won't they' we've laid out the eligibility criteria, the circumstances and when they can apply below.

What Happens When an Eligible Person Contests a Will?

The court proceedings process for contesting a Will varies depending on which Australian state or territory you reside in. But this common court proceedings typically follows the same pattern, and regardless of state it can quickly become a complicated process. To contest a Will you must first lodge an application for a Family Provision Order with the Supreme Court. This must be done within a 3 to 12 month time frame from the date of death depending on your state of residence.

Once this has been submitted the court will review the application to decide whether the claim is valid. They will need to determine whether the person is ‘eligible' for a part of the Estate and if their grounds for lodging a claim are valid according to the grounds of: undue influence or adequate provision.

When a decision is made the courts will contact the Executor of the Will and the person who made the claim, to organise a mediation. This can involve discussing All attempts will be made to reach an agreement over the Estate outside of court in the first instance. If mediation is unsuccessful the claim will be taken to court.

How much does it cost to contest a Will?

The cost of contesting a Will depends entirely on the outcome of the claim and the way it is handled by the Executor of the Will and the claimant. The application itself carries a fee and if the case ends up before the courts there will be additional legal costs.

If the matter is resolved outside court the average cost will range from $5,000 - $30,000. If it goes to court it could cost anywhere from $20,000 - $100,000.

Who pays the bill?

The court will determine who pays the bill depending on the outcome of the claim. If the claim is successful through mediation 100% of the legal fees will be paid by the claimant. If the claim succeeds before the courts the court will order 70% of the legal costs be paid out by the Estate.

Is there a time limit for contesting a will?

There are different laws across Australia when it comes to contesting a Will. Each state and territory has a certain time frame by which you must lodge your valid claim in court. But there are certain circumstances where the courts may allow exemptions for claims outside these time frames, for example if the applicant was unaware the person had died.

In New South Wales and the Northern Territory there is a 12 month time frame from the date of death to lodge a valid claim in court. In Queensland you must notify the Executor of the Will you are contesting within six months of the grant of probate, and you have another 3 months to lodge the claim in court. In the ACT, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria you must lodge a claim within six months of the death. While in Tasmania you have only 3 months to lodge a claim.

What evidence is needed to contest a will?

It goes without saying the best proof to support your claim to someone's Estate would be a testimonial from the Will maker themselves. Since they are unable to help from the grave you will need to produce other documents either proving the Will is invalid, or proving you deserve to benefit from the Estate.

Proving the Will is invalid or proving your dependence on the Testator

Evidence which may build your claim against the validity of the WIll could take the form of:

  • Codicils;

  • An older or newer version of the Will;

  • A diary or other handwritten notes by the testator;

  • Medical documents;

  • Witness statements.

These records could help prove the Will maker's intentions around how their estate should be distributed, or whether they had changed their plans last minute or as a result of interference from another family member or third party. Medical documents could help to identify if the testator was suffering any condition which may have impacted their mental capacity at the time of writing.

Who can apply to contest a Will?

The types of persons able to contest a Will are called ‘eligible persons'.

The list of eligible persons depends on the state or territory where the Will was made. However, the categories of people who can apply to the court to contest a Will include:

  • the surviving spouse or de facto partner

  • parents, guardians, children, adopted children and grandchildren

  • any person who would have been entitled to a share of the Estate if the Will maker had died intestate (died without writing a Will)

  • Any person who was emotionally or financially dependent on you at your date of death.

If you or anyone you're leaving your assets to - or not leaving your assets to - fall under the above categories, they may have a valid claim to contest your Will.

Contesting a Will by state

Legislation around Contesting a Will takes a relatively consistent approach across Australia but there are some significant distinctions. The main differences relate to eligibility criteria, time frames for lodging a claim, what assets may be subject to an order and what constitutes ‘adequate provision'. While they may seem like minor differences they can have a major impact on your ability to contest a Will or what assets you may be entitled to under your claim.

Source: https://www.unswlawjournal.unsw.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/38-3-15.pdf










Succession Act 2006 (NSW) ch 3

Succession Act 1981 (Qld) pt 4

Administration and Probate Act 1958 (Vic) pt IV120

Inheritance (Family Provision) Act 1972 (SA)

Family Provision Act 1972 (WA)

Testator’s Family Maintenance Act 1912 (Tas)

Family Provision Act 1970 (NT)

Family Provision Act 1969 (ACT)

Adequate Provision

Maintenance, education or advancement in life

Maintenance and support

Maintenance and support

Maintenance, education or advancement in life

Maintenance,support, education or advancement in life

Maintenance and support

Maintenance, education and advancement in life

Maintenance, education or advancement in life (s 8(2))

Eligible applicants

Wife; husband; de facto partner; child; former wife or husband; a person who was a member of the same household as, and was dependent upon, the deceased; a grandchild who was wholly or partly dependent upon the deceased; a person with whom the deceased was in a close personal relationship at the date of the deceased’s death

Spouse, child or dependent.

A person for whom the deceased had responsibility to make provision

Spouse; person divorced from the deceased person; domestic partner; child; child of spouse or domestic partner; child of the child of the deceased; parent; sibling

Spouse and de facto partner at time of death; entitled to maintenance if former spouse/de facto partner; child; grandchild if maintained or if parent had predeceased grandparent; stepchild;124 parent (including by marriage)

Spouse (note s 9(4) still applies even if they remarry or enter into a significant relationship); children; parents of the deceased, if the deceased dies without leaving a spouse or children; a person who at the date of death was receiving or entitled to receive maintenance

Spouse or de facto partner; former spouse or de facto partner; child; stepchild; grandchild; parent

Partner; person in domestic relationship with deceased for two or more years continuously; child; stepchild; grandchild; parent

Property that may be subject to order

The Estate - including any property designated as notional estate under

The Estate

The Estate

The Estate

The Estate

The Estate

The Estate

The Estate

Matters to be considered by the court

The nature and duration of the relationship; any responsibilities owed by the deceased to the applicant; the nature and extent of the estate (including notional estate); the financial resources and needs (present and future) of the applicant; if the applicant cohabits with another person; any physical, mental or intellectual disability of the applicant or any beneficiary of the estate; the applicant’s age; any financial or non-financial contributions by the applicant; any provision made for the applicant during the deceased’s lifetime or from the estate; the deceased’s testamentary intentions; whether the applicant was being maintained by the deceased; any other person liable to support the applicant; the applicant’s character and conduct; the conduct of any other person; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customary law (if relevant); any other relevant matter.

Disentitling character or conduct

Any relationship (nature and length) between the deceased and the applicant; any obligations of the deceased to the applicant/other applicant(s)/ beneficiaries; the size and nature of the estate; the financial resources (including earning capacity) and financial needs of the applicant/other applicant/ beneficiary, present and future; any physical, mental or intellectual disability of any applicant beneficiary; the applicant’s age; any voluntary contribution of the applicant to the estate or welfare of the deceased or the deceased’s family; any benefits previously given by the deceased to any applicant/ beneficiary; whether the applicant was being maintained by the deceased (including the extent and basis upon which the deceased had assumed that responsibility); the liability of any other person to maintain the applicant; the character and conduct of the applicant or any other person; any other relevant matter

Disentitling character or conduct

Disentitling character or conduct, or on any other ground

Whether the applicant has any independent means, whether provided by the deceased or from any other source; disentitling conduct; the deceased’s reasons

Any benefits conferred (expressly or otherwise) on applicant by the deceased by will; disentitling character or conduct; the testator’s reasons

The character and conduct of the applicant; the nature and duration of the relationship between the applicant and the deceased; any financial and non- financial contributions made directly or indirectly; any contributions (including homemaker or parent) to the welfare of the other or any child of either person; the income, property and financial resources of both; the physical and mental capacity for employment; the financial needs and obligations of both; the responsibilities of either to support any other person; any order made under the Domestic Relationships Act 1994 (ACT) s 15; any maintenance payments by one to the other; any other relevant matter; the testator’s reasons

Believe someone has unfairly benefited from the Will? Here’s what you can do

The most common reasons for contesting a Will fall into the below categories:

  • Mental incapacity: You believe that the person who wrote the Will couldn’t make a proper decision - whether it’s because of their advanced age or their mental incapacity, you believe that they didn’t have the understanding to properly distribute their assets
  • Undue Influence: You think that the person who wrote the Will was vulnerable to manipulation or influence from someone they knew, and the contents of the Will reflected that influence
  • Will validity: You believe the Will is invalid as it does not meet the legal requirements to constitute a testamentary document e.g the Will was not signed or witnessed appropriately.

While the above are all likely to be valid claims, it’s important to note that the level of evidence required to prove these circumstances can be difficult to meet. For example, if we’re looking at undue influence, the courts will only proceed to overturn the Will if they think the person was strong-armed to an extent that went substantially against their true intentions.

If you think that a Will was written under either (or both) of these grounds, we strongly suggest that you seek legal advice as soon as possible.

How do I make a Family Provision claim?

There are two things you need to tick off before you start making a claim under the family provision laws:

  1. You need to be an ‘Eligible Beneficiary’ of the Testator (the Will-maker); and
  2. You were either left out of a Will or didn’t receive adequate provision under the Will.

If you nodded to both those things, then you could be eligible to make a claim under the Family Provision laws.

As we mentioned before, each state in Australia has its own rules about who can claim and by when.

But the general rule of thumb is a spouse, de facto partner, child or dependent of the Will can apply to the court to receive a financial distribution, or have it increased from the Estate. The key thing to know here is that you will have to prove that the Will has left you without adequate provision for your life maintenance, education or advancement.

In non-legal speak, that means it is likely that you received below a ‘sufficient’ amount to keep living a reasonably comfortable lifestyle.

One more thing - you’ll need to file your claim within a specific time limit set out by your state and territory. In ACT, SA, WA, VIC and QLD that’s within 6 months of the Grant of Probate, NT and NSW are within 12 months, and Tasmania is a quick 3 months.

If you’re unsure if this applies to you, or if you need confirmation about what your state requires from you, we recommend popping into your lawyer’s office to get some advice on whether you have a valid claim.

So how do I avoid having my Will contested?

Good question. The short answer? If a person fits into the ‘eligible person’ category under the law in that State, there is nothing stopping them from applying to contest the Will. But, there are some ways you can reduce that risk, including:

  • Keep your friends and family updated on what the contents of your Will is going to be - give them a chance to come to terms with how the Will is being allocated
  • Have a frank conversation about why you’re allocating your Will the way you are
  • Think carefully about the amounts you’re leaving and seek legal advice if you are unsure how to adequately provide for certain people
  • Prepare a letter that can be kept alongside your Will, explaining your decision making, so that relevant people are able to understand and prove your intention after you are no longer around to explain your decisions.
  • Make sure you keep your Will safely stored, and make sure you regularly update it to reflect all the changes in your life.

And the best thing you can do to negate any future Will-reading drama? Get writing now - Safewill is an easy way to write your bespoke Will online, while making sure you’re ticking all the boxes.

Last updated 28th September 2021
Tali Weinberg
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