Legal Hypothetical: Step-child challenges will

MATTHEW and Mary each have a child to a previous relationship.

Matthew’s daughter, Helen spends most of her childhood living with her mother but lives with Matthew and Mary between the ages of sixteen and eighteen years, before moving out.

The relationship between Mary and Helen remains amicable until Matthew is admitted into a nursing home decades later.

When Matthew passes away, he leaves the whole of his estate to Mary.

When Mary passes away ten years later, leaving a one million-dollar estate, her will gives the whole of the estate to her sole surviving son.

Helen makes a claim against Mary’s estate.

Although stepchildren are not automatically eligible to make a claim, Helen is eligible to make a claim because she is a person who was “partly dependent on the deceased person and was a member of the household of which the deceased person was a member”, albeit relatively briefly.

Helen argues that she was dependent upon Mary for accommodation, food and emotional support whilst cohabitating with her during her formative years and that Mary had a moral obligation to provide for her in the will.

Helen claims she is entitled to $150,000.

Mary’s son argues that Helen’s relationship with Mary petered-out after Matthew moved into the nursing home and that there had been virtually no contact between Mary and Helen for more than fifteen years, while he maintained a close and loving relationship with her.

The defence also relies on a written note from Mary stating that Helen foreshadowed a claim when Matthew passed-away which caused her severe mental stress and anxiety.

In the whole of the circumstances, the Court ultimately dismisses Helen’s claim and orders her to pay the estate’s legal costs of $100,000.

This case highlights the importance of proper estate planning in the context of blended families and the importance of obtaining specialist advice when commencing Supreme Court proceedings.

Email Manny Wood, Principal Solicitor and Accredited Specialist in Wills and Estates at TB Law at or call him on (02) 66 487 487.

This column is only accurate at today’s date and cannot be relied upon as legal advice.

By Manny WOOD, Solicitor

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