John was a 60 year old merchant seaman, he had spent years working away from home on various ships having joined the navy as a young man. He had 2 adult children from a prior marriage and had been living happily with Yvonne for the last 15 years when she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and died within 12 months of the diagnosis.
John had around $450,000 in superannuation and a military pension, Yvonne owned the house they lived in on the Northern beaches of Sydney.
John and Yvonne had prepared wills on their own using the Legal Will Kit which meant John inherited Yvonne’s house but passed that house to Yvonne’s two adult sons in his will, leaving his superannuation to his two daughters.
Always one to enjoy a beer, John started to drink much more after losing Yvonne and was tragically killed in a car accident less than 18 months after her death.
John’s daughters Cherylanne and Sienna were the named executors in his will and they approached a local law firm to help with managing the estate. Yvonne’s sons (Luke and Joel) were not close to Cherylanne and Sienna but the girls intended to honour their father’s will and pass the property (worth well over $1,500,000) to them without problem.
“What do you mean Dad has another daughter?…”
Sienna received a letter a few weeks after John’s death from the solicitor which informed her that contact had been made from two women from Port Kembla, south of Sydney, claiming to be John’s ex wife and daughter. John’s brother Ken confirmed who they were. As a young sailor John had got a girl pregnant and married her, the marriage only lasted 18 months but for a few years John had sent them money. John had largely ignored them for 30 years, certainly never discussing them with his new families.
Now things were going to be difficult. As an ex spouse and legal child of John the women had a genuine right to be considered as beneficiaries of his will. They had both been financially dependant on John, had lived under his roof and for a period of years had received ongoing financial support. This meant that they had a strong likelihood of a successful outcome in court. The solicitor informed them that legal fees associated with disputed estates can not only become horrendous but if the claimants are genuine then the estate will normally bear the legal costs of both sides of the dispute.
Cherylanne and Sienna now had to explain to Luke and Joel that their father’s past was going to be a problem. The girls had mixed emotions because they were very close and the thought of a third sister was attractive to them. After a few months the matter was settled out of court with John’s first wife receiving a 6 figure settlement. John’s first daughter ultimately received very little and was more interested in forming a relationship with her lost sisters. Luke and Joel said some unkind things and the relationship with Cherylanne and Sienna never recovered.
The great irony of this story is that Yvonne could easily have protected her son’s inheritance from legal challenge by asking a solicitor to create a will with a life tenancy arrangement over the house rather than pass it directly to John. As they say, legal advice can be very expensive … especially if you don’t pay for it!