Proposed law change could leave some children unable to contest will

Source: Seven Sharp

Sorting out an inheritance can be complicated at the best of times, but a change to the law could see things become more controversial.

Under 140 proposed recommendations, people who might expect to get family wealth might not.

It's the biggest shake-up of wills, trusts and inheritance since 1955 and could see some interesting challenges, like children being disinherited and unable to challenge it.

Public Trust chief executive Glenys Talavai told Seven Sharp the Law Commission's proposal was aimed at making inheritance law "much simpler".

"Some of the things that are being focused on are things like Māori taonga and how Māori may make decisions around that rather than state law. Other changes focus around who can make a claim against the estate - it puts that all into one law, at the moment it's under a number of different laws," Talavai said.

"It also looks at making changes to what happens when there isn't a will in place and what happens if assets aren't covered by a will. It's quite important given only about half of adults [in New Zealand] actually have a will."

While the number of changes seems large, Talavai said it was more about refining the law into one document, given it was currently spread across four pieces of legislation, the oldest of which was around 70 years old.

"It really doesn't reflect what families are like these days," she said.

One of the more controversial proposals put forward by the Commission is that only children under the age of 25 can make claims against the estate.

However, Talavai said that part of the law could remain the same, with children of any age able to make a claim.

"It's taking into consideration the differences between the obligations of a parent to pass on an inheritance, versus the freedom of a person to make a choice about how they want their estate to ultimately be distributed," she said.

"Ultimately at the end of the day it will affect all of us."