Case Studies

Arts Law assists with lost wills

Delwyn Everard, Arts Law lawyer, with Martumilli Senior Artists in 2014 (c) Gabrielle Sullivan

Since 2008 Arts Law have been working with Martumili Artists in Western Australia to assist in writing wills for Artists in remote communities. The wills were then stored in safes in the artists’ home communities. In 2019  Martumili were informed that all of the original wills had either been lost or destroyed in an office fire in one of the communities.   The Arts Centre, understandably was very concerned and contacted Arts Law for assistance.   

As part of Arts Law’s Artists in the Black Outreach program, Arts Law travels to remote art centres and prepares wills for the artists.  This is especially important for artists as their artworks can generate income for the family, through either continuing sales of the artworks, or royalties from licensing of images created by the artist on merchandise or in publications.  Wills also ensure that the artist’s wishes to bequeath their estate to family members, including children they have brought up, can be respected.  In the absence of a will, the intestacy laws of the state or territory will apply which may not represent the deceased’s wishes.   The originals of the wills are commonly stored at the Art Centre for safekeeping. 

Over many months, Arts Law was engaged in a process with the Art Centre to prepare certified copies of all 64 wills which had been lost or destroyed.  Certification must be done by someone who was originally a witness to the will and who is also qualified to certify, such as a lawyer.  Fortunately the original wills had been witnessed by current or still contactable employees of Arts Law.  A certified copy can then be used in the same way as the original will when communicating with organisations like banks, government agencies and courts, to inform them of the will and the will maker’s wishes.  

The certification project is now completed and the art centre has lodged all the wills for safekeeping at the WA Wills Bank.  The Wills Bank is a Western Australian government offered community service to ensure safekeeping for wills, in a fire proof(!) vault.  https://www.publictrustee.wa.gov.au/W/wa_will_bank.aspx  The Northern Territory has a similar free service for storage of wills.  Other states have conditions on storage or charge a fee. 

This has had a tremendous positive impact on the will makers in being able to ensure that they have valid wills and don’t need to go through the process of redoing their will. 

The Art Centre said of the experience: 

Martumili is appreciative of all the work that Arts Law has done with us to ensure that the artists have certified copies of their wills. It has been a big process that means a lot to the artists and their families, knowing that their wills are now stored in a safe and secure location.” 

Keep up to date on legal issues affecting the Arts, with our monthly newsletter, Art + Law.