Compass CEO Death: What Happens to the Estate?

The end of 2017 brought the tragic news about the death of Compass CEO Richard Cousins and his entire immediate family in a seaplane crash in Sydney. While on a holiday in Australia on New Year’s Eve, their flight crashed near Sydney Harbour. Australian police described it as a ‘tragic accident’ according to reports.

Below Chris Gambs, Associate Solicitor at law firm Coffin Mew, explores what happens to Mr Cousins’ estate following this terrible incident.

Prior to the catastrophic seaplane crash, Mr Cousins was quoted to be the 11th best performing CEO in world. No doubt a man of his acumen had a Will, but even the most carefully prepared will rarely contemplate that their entire immediate family could be killed in one event.

Wills do usually have substitution arrangements for remaining beneficiaries named or included in the Will, in the event other beneficiaries die before the author of the Will.

If all immediate beneficiaries are lost, as in the tragic case of Mr Cousins and his family, what happens? In many Wills there may be a residuary clause leaving, the estate to charity and that may be the case here.

If the estate cannot be distributed under the Will then it is distributed to decreasingly distant classes of relative in accordance with intestacy rules. The search can extend as far as half cousins and the estate will then be shared equally between all members of the first class of relative that has any living members.

If, however, the list is exhausted without finding a suitable beneficiary then the estate passes by ‘Bona Vacantia’ to the Crown.

I’m sure that many people would be surprised that HM Treasury could inherit any of the estate following this family tragedy, or indeed from many other cases each year.

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