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Fifteen children fighting over their father’s assets leads to a civil agreement

Lawyer-in-charge: Kaisha Gambell

Our client was a family who had recently lost their father. They told her stories of their family holiday house where their father would take them fishing and boating as children. From the outset, we knew that this house may cause some contention, as some of the children wished to keep it in the family as their father had wanted. There were fifteen children and each child wanted to voice their opinion and have their say about the holiday house.

The deceased father had a Will which validly set out his wishes for the distribution of his assets, and provided for all fifteen children to share in his estate assets equally. Coutts contacted all the children to advise them of their inheritance and shortly after the talks about whether the house was to be sold ramped up drastically.

Most of the children agreed that the holiday house should be kept in the family and were happy for the two siblings to purchase the holiday house from the estate by buying the other sibling’s shares. Unfortunately, one sibling did not agree and threatened legal action, insisting that the holiday house should be sold to an independent purchaser.

Coutts helped the executors to diffuse that potential dispute, by highlighting the significant disadvantage that the estate dispute would cause. She reminded the children that because of the large number of beneficiaries, if one or more of them did not agree, then the dispute would significantly deplete the value of the estate to legal fees.

Coutts prepared a Deed of Family Arrangement, which is a private agreement between the beneficiaries of an estate to change the terms of the will. The Deed set out how the two siblings would purchase the holiday house from the other siblings for a market value determined by a property valuer, less their 1/15th share they would receive from the will. The purchase money would be paid to the estate, and available to give as cash to the remaining thirteen siblings.

Each child of the deceased father signed the Deed after receiving independent legal advice, and the dispute was resolved without the one sibling commencing formal court proceedings. This was a great outcome that preserved the value of the estate by not incurring significant legal costs, and the family were able to come together to remember the good times in their childhood holiday home which they can all now enjoy the use of in the future.

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