A $4.5M Inheritance Lost From a Blot of Ink

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A recent case had a couple barred from claiming a multimillion-dollar estate due to a small ink spot concealing their names on a will.

Howard Thomas, aged 75, had a three-page will, but a black ink mark obscuring the names of the beneficiaries led the Supreme Court to rule that he intended to revoke his will.

The will was found two months after the willmaker’s death.

While the court could find no immediate heirs or alternative beneficiaries, the nature of the black markings was seen as indicative of Thomas’s intent to annul the entire will.

The absence of such clarity, similar to the plot twist in the famous television series Succession, can lead to unexpected outcomes.

It’s not just something that happens on TV; such instances do occur in real life,”

Toni Whitaker, solicitor at Walker Pender.

Thomas had initially left his estate, worth around $4.46 million, to his close friends, Richard and Deborah Nightingale.

Upon Thomas’s death in July 2021, it was found that he had no immediate family, domestic partner, or children. His only surviving kin were six cousins, one filing for intestacy.

Also read: Who Can Apply for Letters of Administration in Qld?

How did the will look?

While the ink mark had almost completely covered the Nightingales’ names, no other alterations or marks were found on the will, leading to the conclusion that Thomas intended to revoke it.

Known to be somewhat quirky, Thomas lived in what his friends described as an “uninhabitable” residence.

A former colleague found his will among a heap of papers on his kitchen table.

What happens when you die without a will?

As a result, Thomas was ruled to have died intestate, leaving his estate’s distribution to be governed by local laws and potentially forfeiting it to the state.

According to comparison site Finder, over half of Australian adults don’t have a will, raising the risk of assets ending up in unintended hands and causing distress for family members.

Unintentional revocation due to a subsequent marriage, misplacement of the original will, or improperly prepared wills are common reasons for intestacy.

Will lawyers often find that testators store their wills in secure places but need to inform people, leading to difficulty locating them.

What can I do so this doesn’t happen to me?

While such cases are rare, they prove the importance of having an up-to-date, clear, and easily accessible will.

Make sure you renew your will regularly, particularly after any major life events like a death or divorce in the family.

Make sure your will is being stored at your solicitors office and that your executor knows where to find it.

Renewing your will at Walker Pender

Our office has a large, fire-proof will safe where we store our wills so that they don’t get lost or mishandled.

Speak to the friendly team at Walker Pender to assist you with writing or re-writing your will.

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