Recent court cases dealing with disputes over deceased estate have shown changes in how de facto couples and stepchildren are recognised under the law, the trend being de facto relationships are held on the same platform as marriages.
In a Western Australian case in 2015, the deceased left a bulk of his estate to his 'de facto wife', Katherine Murray. The will was written in 2003, the couple separated in 2011, but the will was not changed before the deceased died in 2014. The court ruled that Murray was not entitled to the estate as the relationship had ended.
In May, the Victorian Court of Appeal recognised that stepchildren of a de facto couple had the same rights as stepchildren of married couples for the purposes of family provision applications.
A recent case describes where the mother had been in a 'domestic relationship' with a man (the stepfather) for 40 years, until she died in 2011. The stepfather then entered into another domestic relationship, leaving his entire estate to his new de facto partner when he passed away. The court found that the relationship between the stepchild and stepparent of the first de facto couple was ended by separation and not by the death of one of the partners.
The Queensland government amended the State's Succession Act in June, making two significant changes.
A new section says that the end of a de facto relationship revokes any gifts to the de facto partner and also the appointment of the de facto partner as executor.
The other significant change is that for the purpose of making a family provision claim, a stepchild and stepparent relationship is deemed to have ended upon the ending of the de facto relationship and not merely because the stepchild’s parent died.