De-Facto Relationships – Death of a Partner

Sheen v Hesan – The Estate of Zaheer (2023) NSW SC 468

This recent case looked at factors that determine a de-facto relationship between two people.  Mr Zaheer died without a Will and his surviving partner, Winnie sought part of his estate.

Takeaway points:

By law in NSW (Succession Act NSW 2006);

  • Un-married partners are entitled to provision as a spouse (called a domestic partnership) where the deceased partner has died without a Will but only (1) if they were in a continuous relationship of more than two years at the date of death or (2) if the relationship had resulted in the birth of a child.
  • Where one partner dies with a Will but fails to provide adequately for his surviving partner it’s not so clear.
  • In no particular order or to any particular weight, some factors considered include:
    • Co-habitation is an indicator – but not necessary;
    • A sexual relationship;
    • Seen in public as a couple;
    • Sharing life;
    • Duration of the relationship;
    • Degree of financial dependence;
    • The care and support of children;
    • Carrying out of household duties;
  • There is no clear formula that determines a de-facto relationship.


  • The plaintiff, Doe Hwa Sheen (known as “Winnie”) and the deceased, Mohammad Bashir Zaheer (referred to as the deceased) were in a relationship for some 13 years, which ended shortly before his death.
  • As the deceased didn’t leave a Will, his eight surviving brothers and sisters would inherit his estate under the terms of the intestacy laws in the Succession Act NSW.  This is because his relationship with Winnie appeared to have ceased before his death.
  • Winnie sought the court’s recognition of her relationship with the deceased as a de-facto relationship.
  • Their relationship was kept largely secret.  Winnie and the deceased’s had opposing cultures. While Winnie was raised in a fundamentalist “Christian cult” in Korea, the deceased was a devout Muslim.
  • The deceased’s siblings had little idea the relationship even existed.


  • The Supreme Court found that factors of a de-facto relationship had existed.  However, as the relationship had ceased before the deceased’s death, Winnie could not benefit from the deceased’s estate:
    • Pursuant to the intestacy laws; or
    • Make a claim on the estate as a de-facto partner.
  • Ultimately though the Court decided that:
    • Winnie was an eligible person to bring a claim in another capacity.  She had been a member of the deceased’s household and was partly financially dependent on him.
    • Winnie had not received adequate provision (ie no provision) from the deceased’s estate.
    • Winnie was granted provision of 15% ($530,000) of the deceased’s estate.  The deceased’s eight siblings received the remainder equally.


Note: this article is general in nature and not to be relied upon as legal advice.