State Trustees calls for law reform to protect Will-makers’ wishes

State Trustees, Victoria’s statutory trustee organisation, has called for reform of legislation dealing with Wills after a ruling in the State’s Supreme Court today that a deceased estate should be distributed in accordance with the rules of intestacy following a defensive homicide ruling.

The estate of James Charles Edwards, who died as a result of a defensive criminal act of his wife, is to be distributed in accordance with intestacy rules. As a result, Edwards’ daughter will be the sole beneficiary, despite his explicit instructions in his Will that the estate be left to his widow, and if not her, his mother in law and the Peter McCallum Cancer Institute.

Edwards’ daughter, who was specifically omitted from his Will, will now inherit his entire estate as a result of this ruling which has raised questions around the protections of testators’ wishes.

State Trustees CEO Craig Dent said the organisation will abide by the Court’s ruling in distributing Mr Edwards’ estate, however the case highlights the need for legislative reform to protect people’s wishes as they define them in their Wills.

“We acknowledge today’s judgement, which provides clarity on how the estate should be distributed. However, it highlights the continued need for policy reform to ensure the intention of Will makers can be carried out in accordance with their wishes,” Mr Dent said.

“More broadly, we see the need for legislative reform in this area to ensure the outcomes are more closely aligned to testators’ wishes.”

“As an organisation that works at the coalface of matters to determine how estates should be distributed, State Trustees’ sees it as a core responsibility to continue to lobby for effective legal changes to protect the rights and interests of all Victorians.”

“That’s why we contributed to the Victorian Law Reform Commission Succession Laws report, handed down last October, to advocate for legislative changes which bring simplicity and fairness, while creating the right balance for people creating Wills.”

State Trustees has been involved in the case and sought direction from the Court, as it was unclear whether Edwards’ estate could be distributed as per the instructions in his Will.

State Trustees sought the Court’s advice to obtain clarity in relation to who the legal beneficiaries of the estate were.”

Solicitors for Edwards’ wife have advised they will appeal the finding. Jemma Edwards has pleaded guilty to the charge of defensive homicide and is now serving a prison sentence.