Most legal documents need a signature to be effective. The importance of this is illustrated by a recent case in Australia where an estate is going to the wrong party because a legal document was never signed.
In Australia a young man and his estranged wife had both moved on. He was living with another woman and she wanted to get married to another person.
The wife signed divorce papers and gave them to the young man. The two divided their marital property and went on with their lives. Several months later the man passed away.
However, he had never signed the divorce papers he was given.
This meant that under Australian law the two were still married. As the man did not have a will or other estate plan, by law his estate goes to his estranged wife.
The Sydney Morning Herald has more on this story in an article titled “Family battle of wills over missing signature exposes the limitations of estate law.”
Two lessons can be learned from this case. The first is that you have to sign legal papers for them to be official. If you are not sure what legal documents mean or whether it is in your best interest to sign them, then consult with an attorney. The second lesson is that you need an estate plan.
If the man in this case had a will or other estate plan, his estate would not have gone to his estranged wife.
Because of these mistakes, a fight over the man’s estate ensues in court. So far, every court to review has said that the estranged wife gets the estate because the couple was not legally divorced.
Reference: The Sydney Morning Herald (February 28, 2015) “Family battle of wills over missing signature exposes the limitations of estate law.”