Australia: The problem with informal wills

Last Updated: 16 May 2019
Article by Angela Harvey and John Trinh

In NSW, section 8 of the Succession Act 2006 (NSW) (Act) lets the Court dispense with the formal requirements for a will. However, it would be imprudent to rely on this provision (and state and territory equivalents if you are outside of NSW). It is always best to comply with the formal requirements of making a will to ensure your estate is distributed in accordance with your wishes.

Two cases highlight the dangers of failing to sign a will and trying to seek probate of informal testamentary documents.

Informal Wills

In NSW, the test for admitting informal wills is as follows:

  1. was there a document that did not comply with the formal requirements of making a will;
  2. did the document purport to set out the testamentary wishes of the deceased; and
  3. did the evidence satisfy the court that, at some relevant time the deceased demonstrated the intention that the document should, without more on his or her part, operate as his or her will.

Weisbord v Rodny; Rodny v Weisbord [2018] NSWSC 1866

In this case, probate had been granted for the will of Mrs Rodny (the deceased in this matter) dated 19 December 1997. However, she had taken steps to make a new will in August 2008 (2008 Document), for which there was no record of it ever being signed. Mrs Rodny's daughter, Jeanette brought a claim seeking revocation of the grant of probate and that probate of the 2008 Document be granted.

The Court revoked the grant of probate and granted letters of administration with the will annexed in relation to the 2008 Document. In doing so, the Court relied on the following reasons:

  • there was a document for the purposes of section 8 of the Act;
  • the Court accepted the evidence of various people that Mrs Rodny and her son Laurence (the defendant) made statements to Jeannette, Jeannette's husband and a friend that she had made a will in the terms of the 2008 Document;
  • the Court found that when Mrs Rodny gave her instructions to her solicitor about the 2008 Document, she had a definite intention to execute a will in those terms;
  • at the age of 86 years, Mrs Rodny attended her solicitor's office on two occasions in August 2008, suggesting a commitment to making a new will; and
  • Mrs Rodny formed the intention that the 2008 Document would operate as her will once an omission in the first draft was corrected.

Re Prien [2019] VSC 47

This case concerned an informal codicil where the terminally ill deceased signed the notes taken by the solicitor bearing a statement the solicitor's notes 'form confirmation of testamentary intentions'.

The deceased's daughter, Sasha sought probate of a will dated 29 July 2009 (2009 Will) and an informal codicil dated 15 February 2016, being the solicitor's notes. The codicil sought to alter the 2009 Will by giving Sasha a larger share of the estate than the deceased's son, Simon who had been estranged for seven years. After the deceased's meeting with her solicitor to make a new will, Sasha emailed the solicitor with instructions to make cash gifts to various individuals.

On 23 February 2016, the deceased was admitted to hospital and later that day, her solicitor emailed a draft will for her review. The deceased fell into unconsciousness and died before ever being aware of the draft will.

The Court did not grant probate of the informal codicil for the following reasons:

  • the codicil was not consistent with the deceased's intention that based on additional funds she would receive from a personal injury claim, Simon's share would not change;
  • the Court was not satisfied that the deceased knew and approved of the contents of the notes, in that they did not reflect her true intention; and
  • it was not established that by signing the codicil, the deceased intended for it to have immediate effect, without further explanation as a document altering a will.


In short, all wills should be signed by the per­son mak­ing the will and wit­nessed by two wit­ness­es. While it is pos­si­ble that an infor­mal will can even­tu­al­ly be proven in Court to be the deceased's final will, that Court process (and asso­ci­at­ed costs and delays) can be eas­i­ly avoided.

For further information please contact:

Angela Harvey, Partner
Phone: +61 2 9233 5544

John Trinh, Solicitor

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions