Colleen McCullough died in January, 2015 and was known as one of Australia’s most successful literary writers. The author of the international successful novel The Thorn Birds, published in 1977, had an Estate estimated to be worth millions of dollars at the time of her death.Continue Reading
Will Dispute Costs
How Much Will it Cost to Contest a Will?
Your costs to contest a Will depend on the merits of your claim and your circumstances. We offer different fee agreements based on these circumstances. The fee agreements we offer include:
No Win, No Fee Agreement
Our experience shows that many people who contest a Will have significant financial needs and are often unable to afford legal representation. In these circumstances we will offer a No Win, No Fee agreement to suitable clients.
A No Win, No Fee agreement means that if Heckenberg Lawyers act for you in your case, you are not required to pay our legal or professional fees until your case is settled and funds are disbursed. Any legal fees will then be paid from the estate in dispute.
We also refer to this financial arrangement as "Payment on Settlement Terms".
If you believe you have a claim to contest a Will and you can not afford legal representation, please call us and we will assess your claim for free. It will take 20 minutes for one of our specialist lawyers to understand the key facts of your claim and then make a determination about how we can help. In some cases where the issues at dispute are complex, we may require extra time to assess your claim.
Many law firms promote and offer No Win, No Fee agreements. We recommend you consider these agreements carefully because they often include payment terms and conditions that include finance, interest or additional charges. We have written an article that will help you to be aware of what to look out for when signing up to No Win, No Fee agreements.
Standard Cost Agreement
We may ask that you sign a standard costs agreement. The terms of this costs agreement are summarised below. This costs agreement works the same as a No Win, No Fee agreement in many ways.
We ask you to pay the filing fee to initiate your case. The filing fee is $1,143 and is set by the Supreme Court.
Our professional fees are based on the expertise and skills of our specialist Will dispute lawyers who only practice law in Wills and Estates. This means they are not distracted from your case with other cases involving different law.
Different parts of the contested Will process will require the expertise or work of lawyers with different levels of knowledge. Tasks that follow standard procedures may be completed by junior lawyers. Tasks that require complex legal opinion and preparation will require senior lawyers or partners to be involved. The hourly fee charged will depend on who works on a required task.
Professional fees are paid on settlement once your claim is resolved as discussed above.
Once your case proceeds to a hearing in the Supreme Court, you're required to pay a hearing fee. Prior to any hearing, your case will be set down for mediation. 80-90% of claims are resolved during mediation. A court appointed mediator is free under these circumstances. Deputy registrars of the Supreme Court are assigned to mediate these cases.
Where your case is difficult you may want to pay for a private mediator. A private mediator who offers their services is a senior practitioner in this area of Will dispute law. Private mediators are therefore more experienced than court appointed mediators (deputy registrars) in understanding the issues of a complex case and what might be considered a fair outcome.
Fees for a private mediator will depend on the experience of the mediator and the length of the mediation.
Court Hearing Fees
Should your matter not be resolved during mediation and the parties decide to proceed through the Supreme Court process, you will be required to pay the relevant court fees. These court fees are determined by the Supreme Court.
Finance Related Fees
We do not believe it is ethical to offer litigation loan agreements to clients. As a result we do not charge any interest or fees for finance.
Other Fees or Charges
We don’t include any uplift fee - you will never be required to pay more than you need to.
Save Time and Money
Heckenberg Lawyers specialise in Will disputes and have successfully represented our clients in contested Will cases for over 25 years. We have a success rate of 97%.
This area of law is complex and we know what is required to obtain the correct information, follow the necessary processes and negotiate successful outcomes without spending more time than is necessary. This saves you money!
We send you an itemised account every month that keeps you up to date with the running costs in your matter.
Every Will dispute is different. Each matter has its own unique circumstances which is why it is impossible to precisely calculate how much a case will cost to resolve in total.
The costs involved in contesting a Will depend on:
- How willing the other party (executors or beneficiaries) is to negotiate.
- Whether there are complicating factors and circumstances in a matter.
- The type of claim being filed.
Who Pays the Legal Fees and How Much?
If your matter involves unique or complex circumstances, the legal fees required to resolve your matter may be higher than the costs incurred for a matter that is relatively straight forward. How do you know whether your matter is more complex?
Start by answering the following questions:
- are you an executor or beneficiary defending a Will? or
- are you an “eligible person” or an “interested person” contesting the Will?
It is important to remember that the judge hearing your case in the Supreme Court determines who pays the legal costs for a matter. However, the reality is that the vast majority (80-90%) of Will disputes are resolved during the mediation process and therefore who pays legal costs are negotiated between the parties in dispute.
If you’re an executor or beneficiary defending a Will, legal fees will generally be deducted from the estate funds. This means you won’t be required to pay anything directly yourself. It does mean however, that the value of assets which you may be entitled to, will be reduced.
The exception to this instance is whether the parties contesting the Will are doing so on the grounds that you have engaged in improper conduct while administering your duties as an executor or beneficiary. If you’re defending a Will there is no need to engage a lawyer on a No Win, No Fee agreement unless you’re being accused of inappropriately rendering a Will invalid. To understand what this means, read the information about Grounds for Contesting a Will on this page.
If you’re an “eligible person” or an “interested person” who is contesting a Will, legal costs may be paid by you directly or by funds from the estate depending on what happens in this order:
- whether the matter has been resolved during mediation.
- whether the matter proceeded through the Supreme Court process.
- the outcome of the matter - whether you won or lost the case.
All of the above variables need to be considered when looking at who pays and how much.
Understanding these possibilities is important before you initiate proceedings, especially when you’re influenced by claims of No Win, No Fee that many law firms use to solicit new cases. There are risks to using No Win, No Fee agreements.
If your claim is resolved during mediation, your legal costs will most likely be paid out of the settlement funds. That sounds like a great outcome, right? The problem is, the amount you actually receive might not be much.Be aware of how much your lawyer agreed to with the settlement amount in relation to their professional fees. If your case was not strong and the estate was not large it is common for the negotiated settlement amount to barely cover all your legal fees and disbursements. That means you get very little to nothing while your legal representative gets most of the settlement they negotiated.
This situation can be very common with people who work with legal representatives on a No Win, No Fee agreement.
If your claim proceeds through the Supreme Court, the judge will rule on who pays the legal costs in this way:
- If you win the case, it is likely all legal costs will be paid out of the settlement funds.
- If you lose the case but the judge determines it was fair and reasonable for you to contest the will, then legal costs will be paid out of the settlement funds.
- If you lose the case and the judge determines your claim to be unfair and unreasonable the judge will require you to pay the legal costs of the other party.
It is in this third instance where a No Win, No Fee agreement does not cover your costs. You won’t have to pay the legal costs of your legal representative. You will have to pay the legal costs and disbursements of the other party. Often this amount can be significant, many tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The most important thing for you to remember is that the litigation of a Will is never risk free.