Fighting families diminish value of estate in court

In the recent decision of Hoskin [2016] QSC 31, the Queensland Supreme Court was faced with the unique task of determining the proper distribution of the estate of a person whose identity could not be confirmed.

Phyllis Hoskin died in 2009. She had no spouse or children and did not leave a Will. The Public Trustee was appointed as the administrator of her estate and had the task of distributing her $1.2 million assets to her next of kin, in accordance with the rules of intestacy.

Phyllis had been raised by and known as the daughter of Aaron and Margaret Hoskin. However, there was no record of her birth and she was not recorded as one of their children on their death certificates. Further, there was evidence to suggest that Phyllis may have been born to another family (named King) and adopted by the Hoskins.

Therefore, the Public Trustee could not be certain who the true next of kin of Phyllis were. So the Public Trustee made an application to the Supreme Court for directions as to how Phyllis’ estate should be distributed, being:

  1. to her possible next of kin from the Hoskin family;
  2. to her possible next of kin from the King family; or
  3. to the Crown, on the basis that her next of kin could not be identified.

The Court was not satisfied that there was enough evidence to show Phyllis was born into the King family and determined that her estate should be distributed to her next of kin from the Hoskin family.

In particular, the Court relied heavily on the Will of Aaron Hoskin, in which he referred to Phyllis as his daughter and gifted 20 percent of his estate to her absolutely. Based on this gift, the Court concluded that it was more probable than not that Phyllis was Aaron Hoskins’ natural child.

This matter involved nine parties (including all of Phyllis’ potential next of kin from the Hoskin and King families). All parties costs were paid out of Phyllis’ estate, which would have been substantial.

If Phyllis had a valid Will, this issue might have been avoided and significant costs saved to her estate.

This decision stresses the importance of:

  • preparing a Will to ensure that your assets are distributed to the people you choose when you die; and
  • the benefit of proper drafting of Wills, to ensure that your family and friends are appropriately identified.

For more information or advice in relation to preparing a will or an estate dispute, please contact a member of our team today.

Authors

Kellie Keenan is a Director at Bennett & Philp Lawyers
Charlie Young is a Senior Associate at Bennett & Philp Lawyers

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