Wealthy widow bequeathed large sum of money to neighbour

Date: Nov 28, 2012

Wealthy widow, H, bequeathed her entire estate to her friendly neighbour, G, in her 2005 will.

H was widowed in 1991 and lived a reclusive life in her property in an exclusive suburb. She left no children. G, a successful professional, assisted H by buying her groceries helping out around the house.

The will was contested in the Supreme Court of New South Wales by H's niece, who was the sole beneficiary in H’s previous 1996 will.

The judgment delivered by the court indicates that the issue was whether the later will was valid on the basis that H lacked testamentary capacity.

The court heard that H was hospitalised in 2005 at which point a doctor described her as having dementia. Whilst H was hospitalised the Guardianship Tribunal made orders for the appointment of guardians and a financial manager to the person and estate of H.

It is suggested in the judgment that before H returned home from hospital important documents were removed from H's house, including title deeds and a copy of the 1996 will. It is also suggested that H had to ask for money from her financial manager.

The judgment suggests H was angry with her niece, and revoked her 1996 will and selected G and her husband as her beneficiaries.

During her 2005 hospital stay, the court heard, H told hospital staff that in 1996 she hadn’t spoken to any of her nieces or nephews in over a decade. There was also evidence from diary transcripts from another of H's nieces that the widow was determined that no member of her family would receive a single cent.

The Court ruled the 2005 will to be valid even though the Court accepted that in 2005 H suffered from some degree of cognitive impairment. The Court rejected that H was delusional when the new will was written.

Our firm did not act in the matter and we are unable to verify any of the facts or findings reported in the judgment of the Court, and of course every judgment might be appealed and findings of fact and ultimate decisions can be reversed on appeal, but the case does indicate how a Court might approach a problem such as that outlined in the judgment.

Call Dominic Wilson on 02 8268 4000 to talk to an experienced wills and estates lawyer to ensure your estate planning is up to date and reflects your wishes.