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September 03, 2014 | 12:07 PM
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12.06.2008Heath Ledger's estate crisis speaks millions

You've probably read about the Heath Ledger story. The circumstances surrounding his death were bad enough for his family, now they will probably spend years (and millions) sorting out his Will


 

By Lynelle Johnson

This is a story you won’t want to read. It’s about Wills - yours and the people closest to you. You’ve probably read about the Heath Ledger story. The circumstances surrounding his death were bad enough for his family, now they will probably spend years (and millions) sorting out his Will. Is that the legacy you want to leave- or be left with?

Heath's Will fascinates us because it is about family dynamics and that’s what fascinates Jane Needham, a senior counsel who specialises in family and probate law.

“Wills have a way of highlighting the way a family relates,” she said. It is often not so much about the money but what your parents thought of you – your status and standing in your family. Some families seem functional but when a parent dies it all falls over.”

Heath’s story raises some interesting points about Wills. You’ve got the existence of two Wills, one before and one after the birth of his daughter Matilda, you have the unknown ‘love child’ possibly claiming as a dependant and you have the family questioning the probity of Heath’s father Kim, as executor. His brothers claim he misappropriated $2.5 million in funds from his father’s estate and left the estate in debt – which raises questions about who should be an executor and what remuneration they are entitled to.

Do you need a Will?

Firstly let’s tackle the Will and the existence of more than one Will. Both Jane Needham and the President of the NSW Law Society Hugh Macken say it is important to have a Will – and that any Will, even a simple Will, is better than none. This is because if you die ‘intestate’ the Office of the Public Trustee will need to administer the estate – and charge upwards of 1% of the value of the estate. [This is the rate that also applies to estates which the Public Trustee administers under a Will].

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