Getting legal advice after the death of a family member

If you are contacted after the death of a family member there are a few legal matters that need to be resolved quickly. Here are some questions that you should ask. 

Is there a will?

While many people die intestate, or without a will, it's important to check if your relative did have a will. Not only do wills give some guidance on inheritance they also often give guidance on who should administer the will and what the person would like done with their body after death. If you are not sure where to look it can make sense to ask close friends or colleagues who might know if your relative had any particular place that they stored valuable items such as safe or jewellery box. 

If the estate is very small, for example primarily household goods and sentimental items, then the court may allow the estate to be settled without and administrator. It can make sense to meet with a lawyer in any case to understand any rights and responsibilities associated with the estate such as informing institutions to shut accounts and informing the government so that debts such as HECS (for university courses undertaken) can be arranged. 

Did they have a partner or de facto partner?

If your relative has been living with a partner for the last two years, that person or the next of kin can apply for an order of administration. This includes same-sex partners. 

This allows them to make arrangements with respect to the estate and practical matters such as the disposal of the body. Whilst a person other than the spouse can be the administrator, they still need to be involved in decision making such as choices on the disposal of the body. If there are any disputes, for example if the people involved are from different religions with different burial practises, it's a good idea to have a mediation session where both parties (and their lawyers) can attend. 

What about if no-one can administer the will?

If all parties are unable to administer the will, for whatever reason, the Public Trustee or a trusted lawyer can be appointed to manage the estate. 

If you are contacted after the death of a relative and are uncertain on how to proceed you should meet with a lawyer to get more advice. They can help to explain your rights and responsibilities and guide you through the process to follow.