Widow gains access to family fortune

Date: Jul 22, 2011

A Melbourne woman has recently gained permission from the Supreme Court to divide up the estate of her late husband.

According to the Herald Sun, Victoria Rockefeller has been issued with letters of administration that allow her access to the property and assets of Herman Rockefeller.

The process has reportedly taken several months to complete, with Mrs Rockefeller applying to the court for access to her husband's estate in December 2010. An application to be appointed as an estate administrator is usually authorised within a week.

A letter of administration is used when a family member dies intestate - without a legal will in place. Direct family, spouses and de facto partners are able to apply to be appointed the administrator of the deceased individual’s estate - allowing them to distribute their assets according to the relevant intestacy laws.

As part of this process, Mrs Rockefeller provided an affidavit to the effect that she - as his wife - was the sole domestic partner of Mr Rockefeller.

The Herald Sun reports that the statement issued by Mrs Rockefeller relates that Mr Rockefeller "did not leave a person who at the time of his death was a domestic partner living with the deceased as a couple" other than his wife.

In estate planning terms, a domestic partnership is said to exist between two adults of any gender who share domestic support and personal care. However, if these are provided in exchange for funds or as part of a government service, this does not count as a domestic relationship.

The assets of the late Mr Rockefeller are estimated to be worth in excess of $1 million and include several properties around the country.

Reports also indicate that a woman who claims to be Mr Rockefeller's long-term mistress may be able to claim on his estate.

This is not in accordance with Mrs Rockeffeller's previous affidavit in which she attested that the only persons who were eligible to access her late husband's assets were herself and their two children.

Ken Collins - the principal of Wills and Probate Victoria - said that Mrs Rockefeller would be entitled to her husband's personal effects, plus $100,000 and one-third of his estate, with the remaining amount to be divided between the couples' children.

Estate disputes such as this highlight the need for families to ensure that legal wills are in place.