Yukio Hayashi 26 Apr 2019
Q: Recently, my mother passed away. Her will stated that, in addition to part of the mother's deposit, the house she owned would be handed over to me, but the condition of the inheritance was that I would "be baptised and become a Christian". During her life, my mother was a devout Christian, but I am not interested in any religion. Are these bequest conditions legally binding?
A: In short, it is likely that such conditions of inheritance will be legally acceptable. In particular, if the will specifies how the inheritance will be treated in the case that you do not satisfy the conditions, it will be more likely that such conditions are legally binding. Therefore, you need to examine your mother's will in detail. In principle, "freedom of will" is recognised in Australia so that a testator can freely decide who and how his or her estate will be inherited. Generally, if the conditions of an inheritance are 1) clear, 2) achievable, and 3) not contrary to public policy, the condition of the inheritance is considered valid.
There is a case held in 2014 before the NSW Supreme Court in 2014, Carolyn Margaret Hicken v Robyn Patricia Carroll & Ors (No2), in which the court discussed the validity of a condition that an heir needs to be baptized by the Catholic Church within three months of the death of his father.
The heir of course claimed that the above conditions were invalid. In particular, he argued that the condition was "inconsistent with public policy" because "it is religious discrimination, which creates discord within the family and also infringes universal human rights and freedom concepts". In response, the court ruled that "the condition does not force the heir to change his or her religion, and they are not contrary to public policy". In other words, the heir had the choice of converting and receiving an inheritance or keeping his or her own religion. In addition, it was held that the condition was clear and achievable. One of the major factors that led to such a decision was that the will specified who would inherit if the heir failed to meet the condition.
In the current matter, it will be determined that the mother's inheritance conditions do not oblige her child to be converted. However, even if he or she is unable to fulfil the conditions, and thereby the estate is to be inherited by others, it does not mean that the child cannot inherit anything. According to the Family Provision regime stipulated in the Succession Act 2006 (NSW), regardless of the content of the will, children of the deceased can claim inheritance rights for a part of heritage. Further details about the inheritance claim on Family Provision will be explained in the later article.