Will challenge fails and Serge Benhayon will keep a significant portion of the estate of follower

I recently came across an interesting story that illustrates some of the problems that may occur if a will challenge fails. This story is also a reminder that a will challenge must be driven by sound legal reasoning, not the discontent of beneficiaries that believe they should have received more from the estate. If there is no legal basis for a will challenge, the Courts will respect the last wishes of the testator. The original story is found here.

The story is about the estate of Ms. Judith McIntyre who passed away in June 2014 after a battle with breast cancer. As early as 1980 she had shown an interest in spiritualism and followed various gurus. Up until her death, she was allegedly a follower of Universal Medicine. This organization has been described as a healing group, and its founder Serge Benhayon is called the “New Messiah” by devotees.

Before she passed away Ms. McIntyre prepared a will giving her daughter and son $250,000 each. The rest of the $1.1 million dollar estate was to go to Mr. Benhayon. Furthermore, she also gave Mr. Benhayon an additional $800,000 before executing the above will.

Ms. McIntyre told her children that she wished leave a significant part of her estate to Universal Medicine. It was alleged that the children apparently promised not bring a will challenge after her death. Nonetheless, after she died, the children challenged the will and sought $550,000 from the estate. They claimed that they did not know the size of the estate, and also that they did not know about the additional $800,000 given to Mr. Benhayon.

It appears that the children agreed not to challenge the will without knowing the size of the estate. Their position seems to have changed after their mother passed away and they realized the estate was larger.

Although it may seem unfair to the children, a testator in Ms. McIntyre’s position has the right to decide how her estate will be distributed after her death. Justice James Stevenson of the New South Wales Supreme Court refused to alter the distribution of the estate, and concluded that the $250,000 received by each of the children was appropriate. Further, he stated that Ms. McIntyre knew what she was doing when she made the will.

There are many situations where potential beneficiaries and children may feel “snubbed” by the deceased. That is usually not enough to succeed in a will challenge. There are many grounds for a will challenge. For example if the testator was under duress, or if he or she did not have adequate testamentary capacity, a will challenge may be successful. However, if the beneficiaries are bringing a will challenge without legal basis, it will likely fail. In this case it seems as though the children did not approve of their mother’s desire to resort to spiritual healing or gurus for guidance. It seems they were upset about the fact that their mother gave such a large portion of the estate to Mr. Benhayon. The Court’s role is not to question a person’s beliefs or whether someone like Ms. McIntyre was fair in splitting her assets the way she did.

It is important to note that in this case the children not only lost, but the matter will be returning to Court at some point in 2016 in order to have a determination on costs. In addition to not getting the result they hoped for, the children may be facing a significant cost award. It is therefore important to consult with a lawyer when commencing a will challenge to ensure that it is prudent to proceed.

More on this story here.