Phone Message, Audio recording ruled as Informal Will

In January 2017 G aged 35 died following a self-inflicted gun-shot to his head; he was survived by his wife, and two children, aged 8 and 11 years. G was a qualified pilot who owned an aviation business, through which he provided helicopters for mustering and feral animal control.

In the years before his death, G had been involved in several legal disputes concerning the conduct of his business. The stress of those legal disputes impacted on his home life. On the day of his death, his wife J left the family home with her children travelling by way of a police station where she sought a domestic violence order. G took his life later that afternoon.

G’s estate was valued in excess of $1.6 million and comprised his interest in the aviation business, the family home and a small superannuation account. In addition to those assets, G held two life insurance policies with a combined value of $6,000,000. The nominated beneficiary, in each policy, was J.

G had made a will in February 2011 appointing  J as executor and sole beneficiary in the event she survived him by 30 days. Shortly before his death, G called a friend and left a voice mail message asking that his two children receive his life insurance policy in equal shares and that all of his assets should go to his wife. During the recording of that message, G was distressed.

G’s friend retrieved the message and called him; after speaking for some time G ended the call, the friend called G back at 5.24 pm, there was no answer. The friend left a message asking that G call him.

G recorded another message on a mini tape recorder stating his full name and the date and stating  “This is my last Will to be the final one over anything else I’ve got written” He repeated that “every single asset I own” was left to his wife and six million dollar life insurance policy split in two for his son, and daughter, three million dollars each.”

The time at which this recording was made is not known. However, during the recording there can be heard a telephone ringing in the background, consistent with the friend’s attempts to call G back at 5.24 pm.

J sought a declaration, pursuant to Section 18 of the Succession Act 1981 (Qld) (“the Act”), that part of G’s recorded message dictated shortly before his death, forms his last Will and Testament; seeking a grant of letters of administration with that Will, to be made appointing J as administrator. Alternatively, that Probate be granted on the February 2011 Will, with J appointed executor.

Following consideration of the circumstances, the court was satisfied that in making the recorded conversation, G intended that J receive all of the assets of his estate. As the proceeds of the life insurance policies are not assets of his estate, G clearly stated his position in respect of every asset in his estate.

The Court was satisfied that notwithstanding the legal error G made regarding the ability to dispose of the proceeds of the life insurance policies G had the requisite testamentary capacity.  G’s recorded conversation contained a rational, logical disposition of his assets, that nothing in its contents or the surrounding circumstances have given rise to a doubt, sufficient to call into question the existence of the relevant testamentary capacity at the time the recorded conversation was made.

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