When long-lost family members come out of the woodwork

It’s a sad but common scenario: your loved one has just died and all of a sudden you have calls

It’s a sad but common scenario: your loved one has just died and all of a sudden you have calls from aunts and uncles you didn’t know you had. Your mum, dad or partner had been ill for years but only now these people are coming out of the woodwork.

Take legendary music artist Prince. The 57-year-old had no wife and no children. This was well-known and while the singer had amassed a fortune over his life, it was only when he died recently that people claiming to be related to him made themselves known. And it’s not just a handful of people: there are over 700 people who say they are owed a slice of Prince’s multi-million dollar fortune.

Harvey Morse, of Morse Genealogical Services told MailOnline: “Our phone has been ringing off the hook, I would say we have received between 600 and 700 calls.

“They run the gamut, literally from ‘We lived in the same area so we must be related’, to ‘We have pictures of Prince at our family reunion’.”

It’s a sad story and one that is difficult to navigate. How should you approach the situation and how can you make sure everyone is happy?

According to Lobb Kerr, executors of the estate will need to negotiate with distant relatives.

“In relation to more distant relatives or non-relatives, the courts will look at whether there was any special relationship with the will maker and what contribution they made to the building up of the estate or the welfare of the will maker. It is a complicated area of law and each matter is judged on its own facts. You should discuss these factors with your lawyer if you have any concerns or suspect that a claim may be brought on this basis”.

In 2015, there were changes to legislation in Victoria that makes it more difficult for people who were never around or involved in the care of the deceased person to make claims.

Why were the changes made?

In 1997 the Act was amended to allow people to claim against an estate if they were a person for whom the deceased “would have a moral duty to make proper and adequate provision”. As a result, the number of claims against deceased estates increased dramatically, including by people such as carers and distant relatives.

The Amendments now prevent a person claiming to provide some minor form of care or assistance to the Deceased prior to death (i.e – mowing the Deceased’s lawns or taking the Deceased grocery shopping once a fortnight).

People falling outside of the definition of “Eligible Person” will find it difficult to make a successful claim. Aside from affecting rights of independent adult children, the new provision will make it more difficult for relatives outside of the immediate family group (e.g. nieces, nephews) and ‘friendly neighbours’ or carers (other than registered caring partners) to bring a successful claim.

4 tips if you’re having a fight with your family members over an estate

  1. Read the documents carefully – sometimes issues with a Will come down to a simple misunderstanding. Make sure that you’re reading the most recent, valid will.
  2. Know your state’s inheritance laws – these differ from state to state so be sure to check who is an eligible relative or person and what they can legally claim for.
  3. Consider out-of-court settlements – fighting over an estate in court may take awhile and cost a lot, so you may decide on mediation to come to mutual agreement.
  4. Hire a lawyer. If you’re still unable to settle an estate battle on your own, enlist the help of a lawyer. This may save you a headache in the long-run, especially if people have come out of nowhere to get a slice of the pie.

Tell us, have you experience this issue before with distant relatives? What did you do?