How to prevent a Will dispute between siblings

How to prevent a Will dispute between siblings

Unfortunately, in the wake of a loved one’s passing, the time for mourning is shared with the complicated process of finalising their estate. This process can cause tensions to arise between family members, especially children, in relation to shares of the inheritance.    

As a parent, it is important to have a Will in place to ensure your wishes are met when you pass away. If you do not have a Will to protect your assets, your estate may be at risk of becoming the centre of a lengthy conflict between your children. Fortunately, there are a number of steps that can be taken to prevent a Will dispute between siblings.

Can siblings challenge their parent’s Will?

Yes. If a sibling feels they have not been appropriately provided for, they are allowed to challenge their parent’s Will by lodging an application with the Supreme Court of NSW. This process is called a Family Provision Claim. Any eligible person can lodge a Family Provision Claim to formally contest their share of the inheritance and request that the Court grant them a part, or greater portion, of the estate.

The Supreme Court recently revealed in their Provisional Statistics that 968 Family Provision Claims were filed in the 2023 calendar year. This 11% increase in claims from 2021 demonstrates the increased demand of family members for a share, or greater share, of a deceased person’s estate.

To accept a claim and make an order on a Will, the Court must consider the following factors:

  • The relationship between the applicant and the deceased
  • Any obligations owed between the deceased and the applicant
  • The financial position of the applicant
  • The value of the estate
  • Other aspects the Court may deem relevant

There are a number of strategies a parent can use to prevent the lodgment of a Family Provision Claim.

Fair distribution of the estate

Whilst it may seem logical to split your estate equally amongst your children, parents may choose to split their estate unequally. For example, a parent can give a child who requires expensive healthcare a larger share of the estate to assist with medical costs.

As long as all of the assets are clearly outlined in the Will, a parent can allocate their estate however they choose. To avoid a dispute among family members, it is important that the distribution of the estate is fair rather than equal and that all assets are properly accounted for. An unexplained inequality in inheritance can be a source of anger or resentment between siblings.

Open communication

If your estate is going to be unequally distributed, an effective way to mitigate conflict is to communicate your wishes openly to your children before your passing. Expectation management can help avoid sibling disputes as it gives children insight into the reasoning behind your estate distribution. Openly communicating inheritance decisions made in a Will is crucial to avoiding confusion and distress upon the estate’s distribution.

Keep an updated Will

To avoid a dispute erupting over the contents of a Will, you should keep your Will as up-to-date as possible. A Will that is not current may not account for new circumstances that affect a parent’s estate before they die. An out-of-date Will would leave an executor with outstanding assets and no clear direction as to where they should be distributed. This has the potential to raise conflict between siblings as to who is entitled to the inheritance of outstanding assets.

Neutral third-party executor

Appointing a trusted third-party executor will prevent sibling disputes over the management and inheritance of an estate. Rather than appointing your children as both co-executors and beneficiaries, a third-party executor eliminates the chance for dispute as they do not directly benefit from the Will. This ensures the executor remains impartial when managing and distributing the estate according to the deceased’s wishes. A third-party executor can be a trusted friend, associate or a solicitor.

Alternative dispute resolution

Following the death of a parent, mediation is an effective way for siblings to resolve a dispute without having to involve the Court. Mediation involves the structured negotiation of the terms of the Will using a neutral third-party in order to reach a mutual agreement on inheritance shares. The Supreme Court will often refer parties in Will disputes to alternative dispute resolution as these means are more efficient and cost-effective.

The Supreme Court’s Provisional Statistics record that in 2023, of the 968 Family Provision Claim’s filed in the Court, only 5.6% were judicially determined. This means that the majority of claims were resolved outside of Court through alternative dispute resolution means such as mediation.

Contact Us

If you believe you have been inappropriately provided for in a Will and would like to file a Family Provision Claim, we recommend seeking professional advice. To discuss your Will dispute or estate planning matter with a lawyer experienced in this field, please contact Etheringtons Solicitors in North Sydney on (02) 9963 9800 or via our online contact form.

Contesting a Grant of Probate

Contesting a Grant of Probate

What is a grant of probate?

A grant of probate is a legal document issued by the Supreme Court that validates a recently deceased person’s Will. The document certifies that the testator (the person who made the Will) has passed away and created a valid Will. It also authorises the named executor/s to distribute the deceased’s estate in accordance with the terms of the Will.

How do I file a grant of probate application?

Following the death of the testator, the named executor/s must apply for grant of probate with the Supreme Court. The application must contain supporting documentation to assist the Court in validating the Will. These documents include:

  • The deceased’s original Will
  • Any codicils (formal alterations to the original Will)
  • The testator’s death certificate.

The application must also provide a summary of the deceased’s assets, liabilities, any other named executors, and a list of the beneficiaries to the Will.

Once granted, the executor/s to the Will can settle outstanding debts, compile the deceased’s assets and distribute the estate to beneficiaries.

A grant of probate application must be filed within 6 months of the testator’s death. If the application is filed beyond this deadline, there must be a reasonable explanation for the delay.

Can I contest a grant of probate?

Yes, a grant of probate can be contested before the Supreme Court grants probate to the executor. A grant of probate can be contested by lodging a probate caveat.

A probate caveat notifies the Supreme Court that the probate application is being contested. The caveat will prevent the Court from granting probate until the person contesting the grant (caveator) has demonstrated their interest in the estate.

In NSW, the rules surrounding caveats are found under division 10 of the Supreme Court Rules 1970. The rules permit any person with an interest in the estate to “file a caveat in respect of any grant of probate or administration.”

For a probate caveat to be successful, it must challenge the validity of the Will. The decision of Vea v Katalinic [2020] NSWSC 805 concludes that for a probate caveat to be successful, it must present the Court with circumstances that warrant investigation.

Scenarios that may warrant an investigation include:

  1. Whether the deceased lacked testamentary capacity.
  2. Whether the deceased was subject to undue influence or duress when creating the Will.
  3. If the Will has not complied with legal requirements and is unclear in its interpretation.
  4. If forgery or other fraudulent behavior was involved in the creation of the Will.

What if a probate caveat is successful?

If the Supreme Court determines the Will is invalid, the Court will give directions to adjust the Will for a just determination of proceedings, or authorise for the probate to be granted in solemn form.

As opposed to common form, where the grant of probate is authorised by a registrar, a grant of probate in solemn form is authorised by a judge in a formal court proceeding. This opens the matter to litigation and requires the caveator to file a statement of claim to initiate the proceedings.

What if probate has already been granted?

If probate has already been granted, it is still possible to file a family provision claim against the Will within 12 months of the death of the deceased. A family provision claim offers eligible persons the opportunity to contest a Will if they believe they have been left out of the Will or deserve a higher provision of the estate.

To learn more, please refer to our free Guide to Family Provision Claims or read an interview with our principal Paul Etherington about the intricacies of inheritance disputes.

Contact Us

If you are planning on contesting a Will or a Grant of Probate, we recommend seeking professional advice. If you would like to discuss a probate matter with an experienced Wills & Estates Lawyer in North Sydney, please contact us on (02) 9963 9800 or via our online contact form.

How to protect your Enduring Power of Attorney from misuse

How to protect your Enduring Power of Attorney from misuse

What is an Enduring Power of Attorney?

An Enduring Power of Attorney (EPOA) appoints a person, or persons, to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf once you have lost the mental capacity to make these decisions on your own due to a serious illness or injury.

If your EPOA is not explicit in its instructions, it is possible for your attorney to authorise transactions which will result in a substantial reduction in your estate’s value. This may be demonstrated through an excessive withdrawal of funds or the closing of bank accounts. In other circumstances, an attorney may sell assets or transfer real estate to their own name.

How to protect your assets in your Enduring Power of Attorney

Misuse of an EPOA can be prevented by ensuring that you have written clear and comprehensive instructions on every legal, financial and personal matter that is significant to you.

Choosing a trustworthy attorney/s is paramount to protecting your interests. It is best to appoint someone who knows you well and can anticipate your needs. Your attorney/s should respect your decisions and be objective when needed. For more information on selecting the ideal attorney and the circumstances in which a Power of Attorney is important, please refer to our blog or the NSW Trustee & Guardian website.

In your EPOA, you may also elect to have regular third-party checks conducted through audits or annual reviews to ensure that your attorney is appropriately managing your assets.

What should you do if an attorney is misusing their position?

If you do not specify any conditions that your attorney must abide by before you have lost mental capacity, it is possible for your attorney to misuse their authority. Consequently, it is best to enlist a legal professional when preparing your EPOA so you may safeguard the management of your assets and personal wishes.

If you are concerned that an attorney is not acting in the best interests of the person who has lost their mental capacity, you may apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) for a review. NCAT will review the operation and effect of an EPOA and can order that an attorney is removed, revoke all or part of the EPOA or appoint a substitute attorney. NCAT can also order an audit on financial records, transactions and accounts made under the EPOA as well as issue an inquiry and report on the conduct of the attorney.

Contact Us

A solicitor at Etheringtons Solicitors can assist you in the creation, amendment or revocation of a Power of Attorney. If you have any concerns regarding an existing EPOA, please contact one of our experienced solicitors on (02) 9963 9800 or via our online contact form.

Wills & Estates

Wills & Estates

Wills and estates can be a confusing topic for many people. However, it is crucial to understand what a will is, how it works, and why you should have one. In this blog article, we cover the common questions related to wills and estates.

What is a Will?

A Will is a document that sets out what a person would like to happen with their assets when they die. Assets may include tangible property – such as houses or cars – or intangible property, such as superannuation or savings. When you pass away, the executor of your estate (someone you have appointed) distributes your will, and gives the assets you have allocated to each person.

Why should I have a Will?

  • To ensure your family’s needs are met according to your wishes when you die
  • To avoid leaving confusion behind
  • To set out plans beyond the distribution of your wealth and assets. For example, a Will can include other requests such as:
  • How children will be cared for
  • The exclusion of particular family members
  • The distribution of assets that do not form part of your estate (e.g. family trust assets)
  • Charitable objectives (e.g. if there is any money left over after distributing to family members, you may donate the rest of your estate to a particular charity or cause)
  • Who will be the executor of your estate. If you die without picking your executor, your closest family member will become the executor. You may also request that the public Trustee & Guardian (a government agency) administer your estate.

When should you review or update a Will?

Your Will should always reflect your current circumstances and intentions. It is therefore necessary to update your Will if you have any major life changes, such as:

  • Marriage, separation, divorce or entering into a new relationship
  • The birth or death of children, grandchildren or other close relatives
  • Significant changes to the value of your assets
  • Substantial changes in the way you own assets, such as the creation of a family trust or a self managed superannuation fund
  • If you enter a new business or change the structure of your current business
  • Changes in the residency status of you or your intended beneficiaries.
  • Retirement from full time employment
  • Significant changes to taxation, superannuation and social security laws which may impact upon your Will and estate

How can I challenge a Will?

If you believe you have been unfairly left out of someone’s Will, there are avenues to rectify this.

Family members, spouses, partners and anyone else who can show that they were financially dependent on the deceased person may be able to challenge a Will. However, there are strict time deadlines to challenge a Will, so it is crucial to seek legal advice immediately if you are contemplating this process.

There are different claims that can be made in relation to a Will. These include:

  • Family maintenance
  • Lack of testamentary capacity
  • Undue influence
  • Breach of trust
  • Power of attorney
  • Guardianship
  • Administration

If you have been appointed or named as executor of a deceased person’s estate and you receive notice that someone is challenging the Will, it is necessary to receive prompt legal advice.

How to administer an estate?

An executor is responsible for protecting the assets of a deceased’s estate, dealing with any necessary administration (such as unpaid debts or incomplete business transactions) and distributing the estate according to the Will.

There are a number of things an executor should do upon being named:

  • Notify government agencies and other institutions about the death so liabilities do not continue and any necessary income (such as pensions) is stopped
  • Confirm all of the assets and liabilities of the estate. This involves writing to financial institutions, government agencies, relevant companies, searching records (Land Titles Office) and preparing an inventory of household furniture and personal effects.
  • Apply for a Grant of Probate from the Supreme Court to administer the estate. This document legally authorises the executor to deal with all matters relating to the estate.

When probate has been granted, the executor must lodge a final tax return on the behalf of the deceased, redeem bank accounts and investments, sell or transfer any real estate and motor vehicles and pay any liabilities.

Once these matters have been finalised, the executor can distribute the estate to the beneficiaries as outlined in the Will.

Get Legal Advice

Wills and Estates can be a complex area of law. If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on (02) 9963 9800 or contact us via our form. If you would like to prepare your will with us, please fill out the Will Instruction Form and we will contact you.

Why Do I Need a Will?

Why Do I Need a Will?

Around 40% of Australians do not have a will, with the majority of that group citing procrastination as the main reason for not having made a will. But when unexpected events occur, a valid will ensures your children are taken care of, tax is minimized and your estate is distributed in the way you prefer. Luckily, wills are inexpensive and easy to write with the help of a lawyer.

So, do you need a will? Here are 4 reasons why making a will should be a priority:

1. Minor children are taken care of

If you have children under the age of 18, a will can be used to nominate guardians for those children in the event that you pass away. A will can also detail how you would like your children’s education and maintenance to be managed, such as if you would like them to attend a particular school. Additionally, you can designate the assets you intend to leave in trust for your children, and nominate the trustees who will manage these assets.

2. Limit stress for family

The distribution of one’s estate can be a stressful and difficult time for family members. To ease this burden on your relative, a will allows you to specifically decide who will receive what possessions. This minimizes the chance that your will will be contested, and helps prevent conflict between family members.

3. Protects assets for unmarried couples

Assets are not automatically transferred between couples who are cohabitating if they are not in a defacto relationship or married. If you would like your assets to be transferred to your partner upon your death, it is important to specifically state this in your will.

4. Nominate an executor 

A will can be used to nominate a trusted friend or family member to act as the executor of your estate. The executor distributes the assets in the estate, helps settle your debts and attempts to fulfill the requests you have made in your will.

How Etheringtons Solicitors can help  

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on (02) 9963 9800 or contact us via our contact form. If you would like to prepare your will with us, please fill out the Will Instruction Form and we will contact you.

Wills vs SMSF Superannuation – Who Wins?

Wills vs SMSF Superannuation – Who Wins?

Superannuation benefits are not automatically assets that fall within the estate of a person after their death. Without additional and proper written directions, what happens to a person’s super after death is decided by the Trustee of that person’s super fund.

What is a Self-Managed Super Fund (SMSF)?

A self-managed super fund is a body that helps provide for individuals retirement. Members of an SMSF are typically the trustees of the fund, or they may be the directors. Essentially, the members of the fund run the fund for their own benefit.

With well over half a million SMSFs now registered in Australia, more and more people have direct control over their superannuation as trustees of their own funds. However, without careful consideration and planning, your superannuation funds may not end up where you want them to after your death, as was recently the case in Western Australia.

Case Study

In a recent WA case, Ioppola v Conti, a husband and wife were the only members of a SMSF. In her Will, the wife explicitly stated that her substantial superannuation funds were to be divided between her children and not her husband.

However, she did not have the proper written documentation prepared in her SMSF to reflect this choice. Upon her death, her husband, despite the Will paid all his wife’s funds to himself. This power was given to the husband under the SMSF’s trust deed, which granted all trustees broad discretion.


The children challenged the actions of the husband in the Supreme Court of Western Australia, arguing that as executors they should be appointed as joint trustees of the SMSF along with their father, to have some measure of control over the distribution of their mother’s funds. This argument was rejected on the grounds that while superannuation legislation does allow for such an appointment, it is not mandatory.

The children also argued that the trustee did not act in a bona fide manner as required by the SMSF’s trust deed. This argument was also rejected on the basis that the trustee was entitled to ignore the directions of the Will when making their decision.

The court held that the husband was able to retain the superannuation.

How to Avoid Similar Situations

This situation could have been avoided if the wife had a binding death nomination or a death benefit agreement in place at the time of her death.

  • A binding death nomination is a written direction from a member to their superannuation trustee setting out how they want their superannuation benefits to be distributed on death.
  • A death benefit agreement is an agreement between an SMSF member and the trustee, which specifies how the member’s benefits are to be paid after their death.

A binding death nomination must be renewed every 3 years while a death benefit agreement is permanent until revoked.

A solicitor who is preparing a Will for you can identify issues that may arise and ensure that your true intentions are properly documented.

The above illustrates why it is best not to use DIY Will kits and to get proper advice, as it gives your loved ones proper protection and gives you peace of mind.