Divorce can often lead to an estate dispute, as even former relationships can take their toll on the distribution of the contents of a will.
This has been demonstrated recently in a case before the New South Wales Supreme Court. In this case, a woman has successfully claimed a share of the estate of her ex-husband's father.
The deceased's will initially offered no provision for the plaintiff, with the estate split between his children and step-children. The estate, worth more than $3 million, consisted mostly of a large property, which the deceased's son was entitled to ownership of and which was leased to another family.
The success of the plaintiff's case rested on her ability to demonstrate that the deceased had intended to care for her and her children. In particular, the plaintiff had been allowed to inhabit a plot within the main family property, and which was not affected by the subsequent leasing of the family home.
At the same time, the plaintiff was able to prove that she was part of the deceased's household. This claim dated back to when the plaintiff and her ex-husband first began their relationship in 1977, when they shared a property within a motel complex owned by the deceased.
Similar living conditions continued when the family moved onto the larger property and even after the divorce was finalised, thanks to the allowance that the plaintiff could continue to live on the plot within the family's land.
In the end, the plaintiff was awarded $100,000, the same provisions that the deceased's daughter and step-daughters were granted. She also received a share of the main property's value - roughly $30,000 - and also retained the right to continue residing in the property over the next 18 months.
While the case illustrates the impact of the divorce on the estate planning process, it is important to note that the case occurred in very unusual circumstances. The Judge noted as much in the verdict, pointing out how unusual it is for a former daughter-in-law to contest a will.
However, the bid was successful because the plaintiff was able to demonstrate the ongoing connection between herself and the deceased, and proved a commitment from her former father-in-law towards her ongoing well-being.
If you feel you have grounds for an estate dispute, make sure you contact a wills and estates lawyer. They will be able to provide a greater degree of information on how your estate dispute can progress.