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Broken promises in deceased estates

By Andrew Steele - 18 May 2018

In their advancing years, many people come to rely on the support, services and affection of others. Often this support is not from family members. In such instances many people make or imply promises that they will look after the service provider in their will. The promises are more often than not made to secure the benefits supplied, but can be made simply as a reward or 'gesture of gratitude' for the services supplied.

Court judgments provide many examples where a will-maker failed to make good on such promises in their will. In some cases because the will-maker simply didn't get around to changing their will to reflect the promise. In other cases it seems that they duplicitously reneged on their promises and chose to pass on their bounty to 'family', presumably, on the basis that 'blood is thicker than water'.

People who have done work or provided services to someone on the strength of an implied or actual promise (whether in writing or orally) that they would be provided for or 'looked after' in that person's will can bring a claim against the executors of the promisor's estate to enforce the promise.

Such claims are made possible by the Law Reform (Testamentary Promises) Act 1949 (the TPA) - legislation unique to New Zealand.

The Courts have interpreted the TPA in a liberal way in order to remedy the unfairness of failed promises. For instance, a promise need not meet the standard of a contractual promise. The promise may be inferred from the circumstances rather than expressed aloud. And the promise can occur before or after the services were supplied.

Similarly, work and services are given broad meanings so as to include not only things done for the deceased but also companionship, affection and emotional support.

If you provided work or services of the kind described above in circumstances where you understood that the now deceased person would reward you in their will, but they have not done so, then you may well have a claim to pursue against that person's estate.


Andrew Steele


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