In rare cases, it is possible for a deceased person's will to not receive a grant of probate and for the estate to not be distributed according to their wishes. In this situation, the estate may go unclaimed for years, creating a further challenge for subsequent generations.
This arose in a recent case before the Queensland Supreme Court, involving an estate that has remained unclaimed for more than 100 years.
The case centred on a woman who passed away in 1907, leaving a number of parcels of land to her children. Although the woman had a will in place, no grant of probate was sought for it and ownership of the land was not transferred.
As a result, the local council acquired the land and sold it in order to meet unpaid rates. The residue of the properties' value once these debts were paid was then left with the Public Trustee.
In recent months, potential beneficiaries of the estate have come forward in order to attempt to finally settle the estate, applying to the Supreme Court for permission for letters of administration. These would allow the deceased's relatives to settle any outstanding debts the estate still had and to begin inquiries into who might stand to benefit from the estate.
The Courts were satisfied that, even though a significant portion of time has passed since the deceased's passing, the conditions here warranted granting these letters and allowing the case to progress further.
Although this case represents an uncommon turn of events, it highlights how estates can still be settled after a substantial length of time has passed since the deceased's passing.
For anyone looking to finalise the distribution of an estate, the first step is going to be seeking the advice of a wills and estates lawyer.