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‘Knives Out’ – Settling Family Estate Disputes in Queensland, not Hollywood

Over the holidays, you may have made the most of access to your streaming services. Netflix, Binge, Stan, Disney+ – the list of options goes on! While the weather here on the Sunshine Coast has been pretty dreary and rainy of late, we’ve had a little more time to catch up on shows and movies that had been on our watch lists. One of these was the 2019 film, Knives Out that was recently added to Netflix. The star-studded cast tell the story of a family who contest their father’s will after he changed it, unbeknownst to the family, right before his passing.

As you can imagine, watching scenes unfold of terrible family disputes may make one question, “what if that happens to me?” Let us reassure you, much of what played out on the screen (and in Hollywood overall) doesn’t actually happen this way in reality. But, there are definitely important considerations you must make so that your family does not end up in a position where bridges are burned and ties are cut in the wake of an estate waiting to be settled. 

Accessing the will

Contrary to what you may see in films like Knives Out and tv shows regarding the administration of a will, there is no official ‘will reading’ by a solicitor in the presence of the deceased’s family, either in Australia or the United States. This practice seems to be a relic of a time when literacy rates were low and so families often needed help to understand their entitlements. These days, however, there is an expectation that beneficiaries require no such assistance. 

If you are an interested party, you should access the will as soon as possible so you can read it yourself and see how it impacts you. Generally, the will may be accessed by:

  • A beneficiary named in the will
  • The deceased’s parents, spouse or children
  • Anyone who would be entitled to benefit from the deceased’s estate in the event that no will was in place.

This is important as Queensland law imposes strict time limits within which contests to a will must be made. If you intend to contest, you must provide a notice in writing to the executor within six months of the testator’s death and begin legal proceedings within nine months. If the executor doesn’t receive notice within six months, they are entitled to proceed with the dispensing of the estate. 

Prevention is key

While you always retain the right to contest a will as a family member, this is never the best way to resolve differences in estate cases. 

When families become embroiled in bitter court battles over what their rightful claim to an estate is, it’s usually because of a lack of communication. None of us want our loved ones to be at each other’s throats after we die because of how we have chosen to handle their inheritance. 

It can be difficult and awkward to discuss financial matters with family. But, doing so can prevent a great deal of heartache and potentially traumatic legal proceedings down the road that can, and sometimes do, tear families apart. Sit down with your kids and significant other and talk about what they can reasonably expect. Be receptive to what they have to say and try to come to some understanding of what they will receive. 

If one family member has particularly immediate financial needs, you could think about providing them a financial gift before your passing rather than including it in your will. You could organise for a trust to be set up for your grandkids if they are under eighteen to ensure they are adequately provided for. 

In the film Knives Out, undue influence is brought up as a point of contention. As a beneficiary, you may feel the testator is being subjected to undue influence from a family member, or doesn’t have the testamentary capacity to execute a legally binding will. If this is the case, we recommend seeking professional legal guidance. These issues are notoriously difficult to prove, but an experienced estate lawyer will be able to help you find the best way to settle the matter as painlessly as possible. 

If you would like to discuss an estate matter, book a free discovery call with our team.

The team at Life Law Solutions is here to help you with all your estate planning needs. 

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