Explain your will and avoid conflict says Law Institute of Victoria

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Changes to Victorian law means you should update your will to avoid conflict between loved ones, says the Law Institute of Victoria. Keeping your will up-to-date and adding a note of explanation may circumvent family members challenging it after you have died. As of 2015, laws have come into effect that tighten who can challenge a legal will. The Law Institute’s Kathy Wilson said the changes are significant. “Since 1998 it was open slather; anyone could make a claim if you demonstrated an obligation and a need,” she told 774 ABC Melbourne’s Richard Stubbs. “There were grumbles in the [legal] profession that it had gone too far.” She said the new laws removed the ability of “fringe dwellers” to make a claim on a deceased person’s estate. “The second cousin twice removed, the nieces and nephews, and carers or people who brought an occasional meal … those people are definitely out,” she said.

Ms Wilson was pleased the new laws were less restrictive than those originally proposed, which would have removed the right of adult children to make claims on their parents’ estates. “I’ve been involved in several cases where that would have been just terribly unfair,” she said. She cited as an example the case of a millionaire alcoholic mother who had left money to charity in preference to her adult son. The son had 50 per cent hearing loss which had never been properly addressed during his childhood. “He had done his best, but he was never going to make much. He’d partnered with somebody who went to night school and had a couple of children, they were renting, they had no means,” Ms Wilson said. “I understand that charities need to be provided for but I do think charity starts at home.” Children, adopted children, step-children, grandchildren, spouses and other dependants can make a claim on a deceased person’s estate under the new laws. In making their decision, the court must take into account the extent to which the claimants can provide for themselves as well as the financial impact on other beneficiaries. Writing an explanation may avoid conflict Ms Wilson said writing a note to be read alongside the will may be a way of avoiding conflict between loved ones after a person has died. That note can be used to explain to family the decisions made in drawing up the will.

Such an explanation may ease rejection felt by loved ones not named as beneficiaries. “It’s not sometimes about the money; sometimes [people think] that if they’ve been left out of the will they didn’t have a place in that person’s life,” Ms Wilson said. “Keep a note somewhere so they really understand that just because you didn’t provide for them didn’t mean you didn’t love them.” Such a note can be also be useful when there are children from more than one marriage or partnership involved. Ms Wilson said people should be careful not to update their will when they are feeling angry or emotional, but instead should sit with any changes for a few days before making them official. “Sometimes in a fit of pique you can write something into your will and regret it later,” Ms Wilson said. For those requiring help in updating a will who cannot afford a lawyer, you may be eligible for help from a Community Legal Centre, or Seniors’ Rights Victoria.The Registrar of Probates may also be able to help. Ms Wilson said that while in some cultures it is considered “tempting fate” to think too much about what will happen after you die, it is important to update your will when you have had any significant changes in your life. “I had a situation with a friend of mine recently who hadn’t updated his will and [it] has caused some angst as a consequence,” she said.