Rights of Beneficiaries of a Will in NSW
Being named as a beneficiary in a will can come with a flood of emotions including grief, sadness, confusion, gratefulness, and even, in some cases, disappointment or bewilderment.
Your naming as a beneficiary also comes with certain responsibilities and rights, which can often be challenging to determine, let along navigate, especially during an already turbulent time.
Knowing the rights of beneficiaries of a will in NSW can ease your stress and make sure you receive the portion of the estate you deserve.
Rights of beneficiaries of a will in NSW
When a loved one dies and names you as a beneficiary of a will in NSW, you have the following rights:
- The right to be informed as to whether the deceased left a valid will
- The right to know that you are listed as a beneficiary, the nature and extent of the deceased estate, an overview of what your expected share will look like, and a scheduled date as to when you will receive your entitlement.
- The right to receive a copy of the will if you so request it from the executor or other parties in possession of the will
- The right to be notified of any liabilities attached to your entitlement under the estate, including any relevant taxes
- The right to be informed of any expected delay in the distribution of the estate
- The right to be told of any contests or challenges to the deceased’s will which may potentially affect your share of the estate
- The right to know about any legal proceedings against the deceased
- It is the right of all beneficiaries of a will in NSW to receive their share of the estate within 12 months of the deceased’s death unless otherwise stipulated in the will.
- To receive a Statement of Distribution detailing your share of the estate and how it was calculated by the executor
Can beneficiaries make a claim for a larger share?
Even if you are already named as a beneficiary in a will, you can make a claim for a larger share if you believe you have been unfairly provided for.
A court may decide that the distribution of assets should be different from what is specified in the will.
This generally occurs when the court finds that the deceased failed to provide adequately for the maintenance and advancement of someone they had a responsibility for.
Making a claim for a larger share of a deceased estate can be a costly, stressful process.
What information is a beneficiary of a will entitled to?
A beneficiary of a will is entitled to get a copy of the will from the executor.
The executor has the legal responsibility for looking after and distributing the estate with due diligence.
All assets in a deceased estate must be protected and preserved by the executor after your loved one’s death.
It is the role of the executor to carry out the following tasks:
- Locate the latest, valid will
- Organise and pay for the funeral according to the wishes set out in the will
- Arrange for the death certificate
- Provide a copy of the will to any eligible party upon request
- Provide death notifications to all relevant bodies and parties including the Australian Tax Office, Centrelink, banks and superannuation funds
- Apply for a Grant of Probate
- Identify the guardian of children of the deceased
- Protect the assets of the estate
- Assist in mediating and resolving any disputes that arise between beneficiaries
Disputes Between Beneficiaries
Statistics in Australia indicate that up to 50% of wills are now being contested in court.
According to University of Queensland research,
‘courts are unwittingly encouraging the litigation boom by ruling in favour of the parties bringing the actions in about three of four cases. Disputes seem most often to be between beneficiaries – typically siblings – fighting over how they believe their parent’s estate should be divided.’
With an estimated 2.4 trillion dollars worth of assets set to be passed from the Baby Boomer generation to their successors, these disputes show no sign of slowing down.
When there is a dispute between two or more beneficiaries, there are arrangements in place to deal with this in the courts.
When such a dispute arises, usually over the division of assets, the executor will first attempt to settle the dispute, while always acting in the best interests of all beneficiaries.
If the dispute cannot be resolved via mediation and consequent agreement between the beneficiaries, then it will have to be taken to court.
Knowing your rights as a beneficiary of a will and obtaining sound legal advice can help you make the decision as to whether challenging a will is the right course of action for you.
The Case of Reg Grundy – an example of a distribution of estate to beneficiaries gone wrong
A famous example of a dispute between beneficiaries of a will is in the case of Reg Grundy.
Reg Grundy was an Australian TV Mogul and entrepreneur who produced numerous iconic Australian shows, including Prisoner and Neighbours.
Reg passed away in his Bermuda home in 2016, leaving an estimated 900 million dollar estate.
While Grundy left the majority of his large estate to his second wife Carolyn Joy Chambers-Grundy, he also named his estranged daughter, Kim Robin Grundy, now known as Viola La Valette as a ‘minor’ beneficiary in his will.
The only provision he left Ms La Valette, his daughter from his first marriage, were annual payments of $250,000.
In 2017, Ms La Valette, who had not spoken with her father in 22 years, launched a legal battle to claim what she believed was her rightful share of Grundy’s fortune.
Due to Grundy’s iconic status in the Australian entertainment industry, the dispute between his named beneficiaries has garnered considerable media attention.
In one of her statements to the court, Ms La Valette stated that ‘her father had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and Ms Chambers-Grundy had influenced her father to largely cut her out of his 2011 will’.
This brought into question Grundy’s testamentary capacity and the use of undue influence by Chambers-Grundy.
In his 2010 autobiography, the TV king lamented his estranged relationship with his daughter as ‘the greatest heartbreak of my life’, this, despite certain ‘friends’ of the family coming forward to tell A Current Affair they had never even heard about Grundy’s daughter’s existence.
The court has repeatedly issued orders for Chambers-Grundy to produce the medical records related to Reg Grundy’s health at the time of making his will, with Chambers-Grundy continually failing to provide the documents.
On October 22, 2019, the court issued a final warning to Chambers-Grundy with Judge Julie Ward saying court sanctions could be imposed against the Logie award-winning actress if she did not produce the documents within the next three weeks.
Chambers-Grundy maintains that despite multiple strokes and dementia, Reg Grundy had testamentary capacity at the time of making his will.
The lawsuit is further complicated by the fact that Chambers-Grundy was granted power of attorney in 2012 when Grundy lost the ability to write due to complications from his strokes.
In 2020, Chambers-Grundy and Viola La Valette reached a confidential settlement, bringing an end to the three-year-long battle at the New South Wales Supreme Court.