It is important to have your Will and any changes to your Will drafted by a suitably experienced lawyer. You may have a general idea of your intentions when drafting your Will or when making changes to your existing Will yourself, but a lawyer is able to implement your wishes in a manner that will be legally enforceable. The cost of a having a lawyer prepare your Will is a small price to pay compared to the costs faced by your beneficiaries in heading to Court to have your intentions clarified after your death. The recent decision of the Queensland Supreme Court in Fraser & Anor v Melrose & Others  QSC 213 serves as a timely reminder of this.
The case concerned a man named Mr Melrose who passed away leaving a valid Will dated 3 November 2000 which had been prepared by a lawyer. The Will divided Mr Melrose’s Estate equally between his three daughters – Helen, Susanne and Roslyn.
Prior to Mr Melrose’s death, Roslyn and her husband, Steve, had commenced living in his property. Roslyn and Steve made some improvements to the home at their own expense totalling $21,526.95. In November 2015, Mr Melrose asked Roslyn for receipts for the work that she and Steve had undertaken whilst living with him. Mr Melrose told Roslyn that he would be “adding details” to his Will. Roslyn asked Mr Melrose to talk to her sisters about the changes to his Will so that they would not be surprised by the changes their father intended to make.
After Mr Melrose’s death and upon inspection of his home, a copy of the valid Will was found and an unwitnessed handwritten note by the father dated 9 December 2015 was stapled to it. The note was titled “ALTERATIONS TO MY WILL” and made reference to the valid Will. The handwritten note recorded that the sum of $21,526.95 was to be paid to Roslyn and Steve before distribution of the estate in equal shares to the three daughters.
Susanne and her husband, Ian, were aware that Mr Melrose had intended to reimburse Roslyn and Steve for the improvement costs and gave evidence to the Court to this effect. There was no opposition to the father’s intentions to reimburse Roslyn and Steve.
Nonetheless, the daughters still had to spend time and money in applying to the Court to have the handwritten note declared a valid alteration to their father’s Will dated 3 November 2000. If Mr Melrose had engaged a lawyer to complete the alterations to his Will, the application to the Court could have been avoided altogether – saving thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees.
If you are considering making a Will or making changes to your existing Will, please contact a member of our experienced Estate Planning team.