Even if you are in perfect health and in the prime of your life, it is still important to think about the distribution of your assets and possessions if you were to pass away.

A recent case in the Supreme Court of NSW illustrates the potential difficulties that both lawyers and beneficiaries face when somebody passes away without having a signed current will in place.

Facts

The facts of this case are quite simple:

  1. Mr Maestrale contracted leukaemia and was admitted to hospital.
  2. Given the condition was serious, Mr Maestrale wanted to sign a new will, selecting his son as the main beneficiary of his estate. He met with his lawyer and informed him of his wishes.
  3. The lawyer took more than a week to prepare the new will, even after the son had left several urgent telephone messages advising him of his father’s declining health.
  4. About ten minutes before the lawyer arrived at the hospital with the new will, Mr Maestrale passed away, and the new will was never executed.

Decision

The Court held that the new will was invalid, and his estate would be distributed according to an older will. As you can imagine, the son was not pleased with this situation as he was left a smaller share of his father’s estate. The son commenced proceedings against the lawyer, arguing that the lawyer’s negligence caused him significant loss. The judge agreed with the son and found the lawyer was liable to the son in the sum of $282,000.00.

Lessons to be learnt

Even though the lawyer was found negligent for not preparing the will in a timely manner, this whole case could have been avoided if Mr Maestrale had signed a will as soon as he was sure about leaving more of his estate to his son. This case illustrates the point perfectly, and is a reminder for everyone to have their personal affairs in order, even if you are in peak physical condition and can see no likelihood of falling sick in the near future.