Another administrator of a deceased estate has ended up in court because of the conflict between her role as administrator of her late husband’s estate and claimant of his death benefit.
In Gonciarz v Bienias  WASC 104, Mrs Gonciarz became the administrator of her late husband’s estate, after he died with no Will. The estate consisted of the house in which they lived, with a net value of $140,000.
There was also a death benefit payable from REST (his superannuation fund) of $540,000.
The deceased’s mother and brother had concerns about the administration of the estate, and also challenged REST’s decision to pay the death benefit to Mrs Gonciarz. One ground for the challenge was the conflict Mrs Gonciarz had as administrator of the estate in claiming the superannuation for herself.
This case involved Mrs Gonciarz seeking to be removed as the administrator of the estate and being replaced by an independent lawyer.
There were a number of reasons for Mrs Gonciarz asking to be removed, including her inability to challenge the REST superannuation payment while administrator, and the disputes about the administration of the estate.
The judge confirmed the ‘difficult position of potential conflict’ that Mrs Gonciarz had because of her role as administrator, and that she was ‘obliged to subordinate her claim to the death benefit to that of the estate’.
Ultimately the judge decided it was appropriate to release Mrs Gonciarz from being the administrator of her late husband’s estate, despite the objections of the deceased’s mother and brother.
The decision reinforces the need to implement complete estate plans that properly deal with superannuation death benefits and to think carefully before applying to become the administrator of an estate. This is another example of where the conflict in this case could have been avoided with proper estate planning.
Cooper Grace Ward is a leading Australian law firm based in Brisbane.
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