A father’s Will, which left everything to his wife and the mother of his children, has been successfully challenged by the couple’s offspring in the High Court.

Unusually, the case involved biological children making a claim while the biological parent was alive (in contrast to estate claims by biological offspring against step-parents).  This was a result of a unique family situation, in which the children were estranged from their own parents.

At the time of his death, the man and his wife had built up an estimated 3 million dollars in wealth.  When he died in 2009, the man left behind his wife, adult children, and grandchildren.  Under his Will, the man’s estate went to his surviving wife. If his wife had predeceased him, $25,000 would have gone to each child and the remainder would have gone to charity.

A letter of intent, provided with the Will, clarified that the couple shared a sincere belief that all persons should provide for their own welfare.  The couple themselves had not accepted inheritances from their parents, as a result of that belief.

Their adult children successfully argued that the deceased had failed in his moral obligations towards them and that it was likely their mother would also fail to make provision for them.

A troubled family history was relayed to the court.  While the children were young, the father worked long hours and the mother’s mental illness had resulted in the children being placed in foster care.

The court accepted evidence that the mother’s parenting “left a lot to be desired”.  She had inappropriately used physical discipline on her children, and continued to be emotionally manipulative and controlling, playing the children off against one another.

Throughout the children’s adulthood, the parents had refused to offer help and support through various difficult times – steadfast in the belief that parents should not provide support into adulthood.

The children’s view was that their difficult childhood had contributed to numerous problems in their adult lives.  While the mother was personally wealthy, many of the children were impoverished and suffering from health issues.

While the court acknowledged that a surviving spouse’s claim against an estate is generally paramount, it clarified that was not an absolute rule.  It found that the man’s indifference to his children was neglectful, and at the time of death his offspring were deserving of his recognition and emotional support.

On balance, based on the exceptional family history, the court found the deceased breached his moral obligations towards his children by not providing for them in his Will.  Despite the mother still being alive, the residue of the estate was divided, with 55% going to the mother, and the rest distributed amongst the children.

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