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Words in wills matter

What difference can a word make? The answer is “quite a lot”.

The Supreme Court of NSW was recently called on to answer the question of whether the term “descendants” and references to “David’s children” in a will included step-children.

As blended families become more common, this issue is coming up more frequently.

When the court was asked this question in the case of Estate of Grahame David Wright, it came to the conclusion that the modern use of the term “child” could be wide enough to include step-children and that “descendants” could have a similarly wide meaning. Whether that wide interpretation will apply in a particular case depends on that facts of that case.

In Estate of Grahame David Wright the Court was presented with significant evidence that the deceased considered the step-children just as highly as he considered the natural children. The evidence also disclosed that David (the step-parent of the children) considered the children as though they were natural children of his. The Court therefore found that the step-children were entitled to a share of the deceased’s estate.

The lesson to be learned from the decision is that words matter. If you are preparing a will and there are step-children or adopted children in the mix, it is better to be specific about whether they are to be included or not. Don’t leave it up to your family to try to convince a judge – after you’re gone – what you meant to say.

FWO’s estate planning team consists of Jay Clowes, Adrian Craig and Linda Sommerville. If you have any questions about this article, or if you would like to discuss making a will give us a call on 6650 7000.

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