An interesting case law precedent in Australia related to estate planning/ Wills is the case of Wooster v Morris  HCA 4. The High Court of Australia addressed the issue of whether a binding death benefit nomination made by a member of a superannuation fund could be overridden by a Will.
The case involved Mr Morris, who had made a binding death benefit nomination in favour of his de facto partner, Ms Wooster, to receive his superannuation death benefits. However, Mr Morris also made a Will that left his entire estate to his two adult children from a previous marriage, excluding Ms Wooster.
After Mr Morris passed away, a dispute arose between Ms Wooster and the children regarding the entitlement to the superannuation death benefits. The children argued the nomination made by their father was not binding and that the superannuation benefits should form part of the deceased estate and be distributed according to the Will.
The High Court held that the binding death benefit nomination made by Mr Morris prevailed over the terms of his Will. The court emphasised the importance of honouring the intentions expressed in such nominations and recognised the legislative framework in place to ensure the certainty and efficacy of these nominations. The decision clarified that superannuation death benefits, subject to valid binding nominations, do not automatically form part of a deceased estate.
This case highlighted the significance of properly structuring a Will/ estate plan, particularly when it involves superannuation funds.
It underscored the need for individuals to carefully consider the implications of their decisions and ensure estate planning documents, including binding nominations and Wills, are aligned to avoid potential conflicts and disputes among beneficiaries.
The Wooster v Morris case serves as a reminder of the complexities involved in estate planning and the importance of seeking professional advice to ensure that individuals’ intentions are properly documented and legally binding.
It also emphasises the need for regular review and updating of estate planning documents to reflect changing circumstances, and to maintain consistency between different instruments, such as Wills and binding death benefit nominations.
This article was first published in Financial Times – Spring 2023.