Inappropriate

 

Inappropriate

That’s the caption beneath this photo, of two angry young people, published with a story about them by Geesche Jacobson in the Sydney Morning Herald in April 2011.

It starts relating how, the day their father died in July 2010, the brother and sister:

were told his former girlfriend intended to claim against his $1.5 million estate, even though his will named his two children as his only beneficiaries.

The sister:

said she was upset and angry. ”It felt so inappropriate … My brother and I haven’t had time to mourn our father.”

That was nine months ago and so far the estate has spent $22,000 in legal fees.

…..

”I think we will win the case. It is just unfair that we will have to go through the whole process,”

[the sister said.]

By the time Justice Lindsay handed down his reasons for judgment in March 2013 (after a trial in the second half of 2012) he found that an amount equal to more than half the fund of $1,407,257.03 or thereabouts available to meet the competing claims (comprising a net estate valued at about $635,718.72 together with superannuation of about $771,538.31) had been spent on lawyer-client costs.

There had been two failed mediations and the brother and sister had joined the proceedings as defendants themselves in addition to the executors. They did this because they were not happy with the settlement that the executors had reached with the “former girlfriend” and her children at one of the mediations.

They lost, though the “former girlfriend” didn’t get everything she asked for (at the trial she asked for enough to buy a flat and a bit extra).

To be fair to the brother and sister, his Honour found their father had concealed from them and their mother the true state of his relationship with the “former girlfriend” and even actively misled them about it. She was not, as in his words they contended, “nothing more than a gold-digging welfare cheat.” The judge held that she was in a de facto relationship with the deceased [sorry: that’s lawyer-talk in these cases which is hard to avoid – I’m sick of calling him “the father,” don’t want to use a pseudonym, and don’t want pronoun confusion to suggest the judge was shacked up with her] and had been since 2004. She and her four children from a prior relationship had also been dependent upon and members of the same household as him. This made them eligible for an award from the estate.

She was awarded $175,000; her children $50,000 between them; plus costs.

The brother and sister were left to pay their own costs and repay their mother with what was left over after the executor’s costs were paid from the remainder of the estate.

On my very rough reckoning, that probably is an outcome of brother and sister – not more than $500K, “ex-girlfriend” and her children – $225K less the shortfall between what they had to pay their lawyers and what they recovered from their costs from the estate – maybe they got $175K by the end between them, and lawyers – $725K or more.

That’s inappropriate.

But what I think is really inappropriate is Geesche Jacobson’s original partisan story. How did it come to be written?

5 Responses to “Inappropriate”

  1. Andrew Says:

    The wise thing to do to stop such challenges is to leave a small amount to the person and state the reasons why it is not a larger amount. But this challenging of wills, where the challenged party knows they are going to lose a lot in legal fees and so agree to settlement is just wrong.

    • marcellous Says:

      Andrew, there are lots of reasons people are left out of wills and they are not always fair or reasonable or even deliberate if the will was old or no will had ever been made.

  2. Ken Nielsen Says:

    My guess is that they knew a journalist or knew someone who knew one, pitched the story and the journo saw it as good copy. They don’t have time (or, probably the inclination) to investigate and look for the other side. Newspapers, more and more, are in the entertainment business.

    • marcellous Says:

      Ken, nice to hear from you! (been a while)

      That was my guess too so I suppose my question was to an extent rhetorical. I expect the journalist saw it as a hook into discussion of the nature of such claims with a bit of comment from a barrister and a solicitor prominent in the area.

      She did actually also say that the “girlfriend” had another story, though without going into details. The “girlfriend” wasn’t named “for legal reasons.” The main legal reason I can think of is because she hadn’t spoken to her.

      But then, what interest is there really in a “she says-they say” account of such a domestic dispute? It’s not as if the deceased was Richard Pratt.

      The other part of my rhetorical question then was really how did she think this was appropriate? Pseudonyms and no photo (or back to camera) wouldn’t have been such catchy copy, but in this case at this early stage when you have only spoken to one side and where the actual people are not of public interest, it would have been the better way.

  3. Ken Nielsen Says:

    As we used to say when I was a lawyer
    “a nice big estate like that – it would be a pity to see it frittered away by the beneficiaries”.

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