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How Did Ink Blobs Wreck a Beneficiary’s Inheritance?

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Written by Troy Werner

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POSTED ON: September 8, 2023

A judge in Australia ruled that a 75-year-old man had died without a will after the names of his beneficiaries were obscured by black ink on the document, according to a recent court filing.

Can ink blobs wreck a beneficiary's inheritance? In a case from the Land Down Under, the late Howard Edwin Thomas, a former banker who died in July 2021, had bequeathed a multi-million dollar estate to his long-time friends Richard and Deborah Nightingale. They are also executors and trustees of his probate estate.

Insider’s recent article entitled, “A judge rejected a couple's claim to a $3 million estate because black ink blobs on the will obscured their names,” reports that Thomas had drawn up the three-page will in 2011 and had kept the original document, according to the judgment for the case that the Australian Financial Review first reported.

According to a court filing, two months after his death, his will was found "in a pile of dirty papers on the kitchen table" in his house in the inner suburbs of Melbourne.

The will was the original prepared by Thomas's estate planning law firm in 2011. However, the names of the beneficiaries were "largely blanked out by black ink applied by hand" in two key clauses, according to the court document.

"Assuming the markings on the will were made by the deceased, I am satisfied from the state of the will that the deceased intended to revoke it," ruled Judge Steven Moore.

"The markings effectively obliterate the names of the executors and beneficiaries, on its face stripping the will of its essential elements," the judge said.

Judge Moore said he was satisfied that Thomas made the markings based "on the balance of probabilities."

"Although it is barely possible to discern the Nightingale's names under the ink, the effect of the markings is in the nature of redactions executed by hand to the typed text of the will," the judge ruled. There were no other markets or alterations to the will.

The judge added that the ink markings and "their emphatic expression" on the document showed Thomas had meant to revoke the will in its entirety and ruled that Thomas had died intestate — meaning he died without leaving formal instructions about distributing his assets. Thomas' estate will now be distributed according to the law.

The 75-year-old wasn't married or in a domestic relationship. He didn’t have any immediate relatives or leave any records of alternative beneficiaries.

Although probate and estate planning law is different internationally, there are some universal similarities. No one wants to have to go through a court process in order for their heirs or beneficiaries to inherit. Probate court can be a frustrating process to navigate across the world. If you are dealing with an estate planning or probate matter in Los Angeles or the surrounding areas, our probate attorneys can help you through it.

If you have any questions, schedule a free appointment with us through our online appointment page.

You can also read reviews from some of the hundreds of clients we have helped over the years.

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