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Media release - Where there's a will... (14 March 2006)

The NSW Law Reform Commission has today released the results of a survey that shows who people want to leave their property to when they write a will.

The survey is part of the Commission's work on the rules of intestacy. The rules of intestacy determine how a person's property should be distributed when they die without a will.

The principal finding was that 75% of people who have a spouse and children choose to leave the whole of their property to their surviving spouse.

"This finding calls into question the current rules of intestacy which share a person's property between their surviving spouse and children," said Professor Michael Tilbury, the full-time Commissioner at the Law Reform Commission. "In only around 2% of cases did people choose to share their property between spouse and children."

The survey also found that only 43% of persons with a spouse and children from another relationship chose to give everything to the surviving spouse. 31% of people in these cases gave everything to their children.

"This result shows that people are more likely to provide for their children in cases where they enter into a second or subsequent relationship", said Professor Tilbury. "A new relationship, often entered into later in life, can sometimes be a source of contention in the distribution of a deceased person's property."

The survey examined 650 deceased estates that were filed in the Supreme Court's Probate Registry in September 2004.

Other findings included:

  • 82% of people who were survived by children, but no spouse, gave everything to their children;
  • 33% of people without spouse or descendants, gave their property to their brothers and sisters and 25% of them gave their property to their nieces and nephews.

"These findings broadly align with the current rules of intestacy," said Professor Tilbury. "No clear preferences could be found for relatives more distant than siblings and their descendants."

The Law Reform Commission is reviewing the law of intestacy on behalf of the National Committee for Uniform Succession Laws, which aims to recommend a national scheme for all aspects of succession law. The report on intestacy will be completed before the end of the year.

Copies of Research Report 13 [PDF, 1Mb], "I give, devise and bequeath: an empirical study of testators' choice of beneficiaries" may be found on the Commission's website ( or obtained from the Commission (tel 02 9228 8230).

Media enquiries: Professor Michael Tilbury, Full-time Commissioner, NSW Law Reform Commission, (02) 9228 8230.