Which case won?

The case for the executor
  • My husband, the deceased, did not have a moral duty to provide for our daughter from his estate.
  • It is entirely reasonable that after a marriage of more than 50 years, my husband would make me, his wife, the sole beneficiary of his will.
  • It is also reasonable, considering our daughter’s behaviour, that my husband would choose to leave her nothing in his will if I were still alive. She was determined to cause us distress because we didn’t think it was prudent to fund her gender reassignment surgery.
  • Our daughter refused to work for over 20 years, seeing it as her entitlement that we cover her expenses. She recently told a psychiatrist that she has the capacity to work, but has “no intention of doing so” until she undergoes gender reassignment surgery.
  • Knowing that my husband suffered lifelong trauma as a Holocaust survivor, our daughter used his faith to hurt him. One Saturday morning she went to services at our synagogue and announced in front of the whole congregation that she was transgender.
  • She also travelled to Tajikistan to fight for the Muslim United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan.
  • When she left to travel to the Middle East, she abandoned the apartment we bought her, leaving it to deteriorate due to water damage.
  • She even devised a plan to kill my husband with a crossbow at a bar mitzvah.
  • Not surprisingly, at the time of my husband’s death, we were estranged from our daughter. Despite this, my husband continued to support her financially until the day he died.
  • However, he made it clear in a letter to be given to her on his death that he did not intend this support to continue. The letter stated: “I believe you have been adequately provided for, but I suppose that you will expect more. The purpose of this letter is to tell you why I do not believe that you deserve a bigger amount from my Will”.
  • The reasons included that when our daughter moved to Germany, my husband was unable to contact her for six months, before being told that she was in a Palestinian terrorist training camp in Bavaria.
  • The letter also gave examples of her sense of entitlement, such as the time she asked us to pay for a ticket to return home from overseas. When we sent her an economy class ticket, she demanded that it be changed to business or first class. Once my husband bought her a furnished apartment and she sold all of the furniture.
  • Since his death, our family company has continued to pay my daughter a weekly allowance of $1600 just like her father did, so she has no need for a provision out of the will.
  • The moral duty my husband might otherwise have owed our daughter has surely been nullified by her behaviour and by his explicitly stated testamentary intentions.
  • Accordingly, the court should reject our daughter’s application for a family provision order.
The case for the daughter
  • My father had a moral duty to provide for me after his death, including paying for my much-needed gender reassignment surgery.
  • I estimate that my father and his businesses were worth $100 million in 2002. I believe he either gave away most of his assets during his lifetime or the $12.4 probate estimate is understated.
  • My father gave my brother many millions, even providing him with $6.5 million to buy his business.
  • In comparison I was given little financial support. My mother and my brother are both rich and live very comfortably. I am left with practically no financial assets.
  • I know I haven’t always been kind to my parents, but their rejection of my identity has caused me deep distress.
  • Even though I changed my name, my parents insisted on referring to me by the male name given to me at birth and on using male pronouns. My mother has even arranged for the monument to my father to refer to me as his son.
  • When my father was alive, he sent me a letter proposing to pay me a weekly sum if I agreed to have no contact with him and my mother. The sum was so low that it would never enable me to have the gender reassignment surgery that I so desperately need.
  • The content of my father’s letter was so traumatic that I became depressed and angry. It triggered a psychiatric episode, and that is why I had thoughts of killing him and myself.
  • It’s true that I still receive a weekly allowance from the family company. However, the payment is only sufficient to meet my basic needs. It does not adequately provide for my future needs and maintenance, nor does it enable me to get the gender reassignment surgery that is so important to my mental wellbeing. The payments are also at the discretion of my mother and brother, so they can be stopped at any time.
  • I am now 61 years old and have been long absent from the workforce. It would be very difficult for me to find a job to support myself.
  • The moral duty that a father owes to a daughter shouldn’t cease just because we had a difficult relationship.
  • The court should make a family provision order granting a portion of my father’s estate to me for my maintenance and support.

So, which case won?

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Expert commentary on the court's decision

“This case demonstrates the sometimes complex and often unpredictable nature of family provision claims. The legislative provisions in each state are designed to make sure that a person is not left unable to support and maintain themselves.”
Supreme Court finds in favour of daughter

In Jessica Joss v Judith Joss (executor of the estate of Peter Joss, deceased) [2020] VSC 424, the Supreme Court of Victoria ruled in favour of the daughter, Jessica Joss.

The court ruled that Jessica’s father, Peter Joss, had a moral duty to provide for her at the time of his death.

The court ordered that the sum of $3.225 million be paid out of Peter Joss’s estate as adequate provision for Jessica’s proper maintenance and support.

Deceased’s wishes can be overridden if deceased breaches their moral duty

This case demonstrates the sometimes complex and often unpredictable nature of family provision claims. Legislative provisions within part IV of the Victorian Administration and Probate Act 1958 (“the Act”), similar to corresponding provisions in other state acts, are designed to make sure that a person is not left unable to support and maintain themselves.

As the court explained in this case, a person has the freedom to dispose of their estate as they see fit. The court will only interfere with this freedom as provided for by the relevant act.

Under section 91 of the Act, where a person has breached their moral duty to those for whom they have responsibility, the court has the power to override the testator’s wishes and make a family provision order to ensure the proper maintenance and support of those people.

Deceased owed moral duty to his daughter

In determining whether Peter Joss owed a moral duty to Jessica, the court said that its role was to consider what, according to current community standards, he should have considered his responsibility.

The court concluded that he did owe a moral duty to Jessica, notwithstanding her attitude and behaviour over the years. Of particular relevance was that Peter had allowed his daughter to become financially dependent on him, losing much if not all of her capacity for employment.

The court noted that “family disharmony or dysfunction, and a parent’s disappointment in a child, are commonplace in family relationships; such matters are only one of the factors to be considered by the court under the Act”.

Court must consider deceased’s testamentary intentions

In determining whether to make a family provision order, the primary factor that the court must consider is the deceased’s testamentary intentions, as evidenced in the will.

In accordance with the principle of testamentary freedom, the court will consider the provisions of the will and note any further evidence of the reasons for the deceased making those dispositions in the will.

Peter Joss’s will made no provision for Ronald or Jessica, unless Judith pre-deceased him.

If, however, his wife Judith had died first, their son, Ronald, would receive certain specific shares, and the remainder of the estate would have been apportioned between Ronald, Jessica, and Ronald’s children.

Therefore, Jessica was not completely excluded from Peter’s consideration under the will. But neither she nor Ronald nor any of the grandchildren would inherit anything from him directly if Judith survived Peter.

Court must consider deceased’s reasons for making disposition

The court must also consider why Peter made the dispositions that he did in his will.

Referring to Peter’s letter given to Jessica after his death, the court said it was understandable in the circumstances that Peter believed he had done enough to discharge his obligations to her.

Court may consider additional factors

In deciding whether to make an order for provision and the amount of any provision, the court may also take into account the factors listed in section 91A of the Act.

These include, among other things, the size of the estate, the relationship between the deceased and the applicant, including the degree of dependency the applicant had on the deceased, and the “competing claims” of other family members.

In this case, the primary competing claim was that of the widow, Judith Joss. She received the benefit of the deceased’s trusts and companies. It was not in dispute that Judith lives comfortably on income provided by the Joss companies. It was not suggested that making a family provision order would adversely affect Judith’s standard of living or ability to support herself.

Jessica, on the contrary, had no superannuation, savings, or substantial assets. She had a short but significant history of mental illness and limited means of independently supporting herself.

Court finds daughter entitled to provision from estate

It was clear that Jessica’s actions had contributed to her disadvantaged position, and that her malicious behaviour towards her parents was a relevant consideration when measuring her father’s moral duty to provide for her in his will. However, the court found Jessica was still entitled to a provision from her father’s relatively large estate.

The case cites the principles for claims by adult children, pronounced by Justice Hallen in Walsh v Walsh [2013] NSWSC 1065. These principles make it clear that if an adult child remains a dependent of a parent, the community will generally expect the parent to make provision to fulfil that ongoing dependency after death.

According to Justice Hallen:

The relationship between parent and child changes when the child leaves home. However, a child does not cease to be a natural recipient of parental ties, affection or support, as the bonds of childhood are relaxed… It is impossible to describe in terms of universal application, the moral obligation, or community expectation, of a parent in respect of an adult child… Generally, also, the community does not expect a parent to look after his, or her, child for the rest of the child’s life and into retirement… Plainly, if an adult child remains a dependent of a parent, the community usually expects the parent to make provision to fulfil that ongoing dependency after death… In addition, if the applicant is unable to earn, or has a limited means of earning, an income, this could give rise to an increased call on the estate of the deceased.

Court makes a provision of $3.225 million

The court determined that the sum of $3.225 million would constitute adequate provision for Jessica’s proper maintenance and support.

This included $2.4 million, which was the amount needed to provide an income stream equivalent to Jessica’s current allowance, together with CPI increases.

It also included $600,000 for Jessica’s accommodation needs and a further $25,000 for furniture.

The court also allowed an amount of $100,000 for the costs of Jessica’s gender reassignment surgery. It was noted by the court that nobody disputed that Jessica’s mental health would benefit from having the surgery.

The court allowed a further $100,000 to cover all miscellaneous items.

For more information about family provision claims, please see Family provision claims in NSW – spare us the details and curb your expectations.

NOTICE: This article is accurate as at the time of publication and does not constitute legal advice. Please see our legal notices page for more information. Information related to coronavirus can be outdated very quickly.

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