New laws came into force on 1 March that give judges the power to limit legal costs in cases involving disputes over wills.
Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said that legal costs in family will disputes routinely run into tens of thousands of dollars, and the new laws are designed to stop lawyers running up excessive charges.
“Costs can wipe out a large portion of a deceased person’s estate, leaving family members and dependants with very little,” he said.
Under the new laws, the court will be required to refer all family provision claims to mediation, except in special circumstances.
In addition, the changes give the court broader rule-making powers, allowing it to curb the use of expensive expert witnesses, costly medical reports and unnecessary valuations and empower the court to cuts costs by determining simple matters without a hearing.
Hatzistergos said the new laws were aimed at controlling unethical lawyers who, according to the Supreme Court, have billed clients more than $30,000 for simple one-day cases, and more than $100,000 for more complex cases.
In one infamous 2005 case, known as Sherborne Estate, the legal costs for three adult children combined were $605,000 – which the judge said was more money than the children had hoped to get from the will.
The new laws, which build on the Succession Act 2006, have been prepared in consultation with the Bar Association, NSW Law Society, the Supreme Court and other stakeholders.