This is the largest family provision award in Australian history and many have questioned whether it is reasonable or excessive in the circumstances.
Michael Wright died in April 2012 and was survived by his wife, three adult children from an earlier marriage and Olivia Mead (the claimant) from an earlier relationship.”
His estate was estimated to have a value of more than $1 billion. Though, by the time of the hearing, the majority of the estate had already been distributed to the deceased’s wife and other children and approximately $45 million remained.
The deceased had made some provision for Olivia in his Will by establishing a trust, which he intended to hold $3 million for her benefit. However, the trust was to be managed by an independent person and it was entirely up to that person how much money (if any) Olivia would receive from the trust until she reached the age of 30. At the age of 30, Olivia would be entitled to receive any balance remaining in the trust, unless she was disqualified by any number of things, which included (amongst other things) having been involved with illicit drugs or converting to any religion other than Christianity.
The evidence was that Olivia had virtually no relationship with her father over the years, at his choosing. Further, he provided very little financial support to her and her mother, other than making child support payments (which he was legally required to do) and paying for Olivia’s school fees and providing some pocket money for her. He never purchased any substantial gifts for Olivia or assisted her mother with purchasing a home or paying rent.
The Court held that the following three factors bear the greatest weight when considering a claim for family provision:
- The size of the estate;
- The needs of the person making the claim; and
- The interests of other people having a claim against the estate (in this case, the deceased’s wife and other children).
However, the Court noted that this case was unique because of the very large size of the estate. In this regard, the deceased’s wife and other children admitted that any award made to Olivia from the $45 million remaining in the estate would not have any practical effect on them (as they had already received very generous inheritances). Therefore, there was not really any balancing act for the Judge to consider when coming to his decision.
Ultimately, the Court decided that the deceased’s Will did not adequately provide for Olivia and that she should receive $25 million because:
- the estate was large enough to sustain such an amount.
- Olivia is only 19 years of age and is subject to all of the uncertainties of life ahead of her. In this regard, $25 million will set up her and her future family well so that they will never have to want for anything.
- making the award to Olivia would not disadvantage or negatively affect the other members of the deceased’s family in any way.
- a reasonable person in the position of the deceased should have seen fit to set-up his daughter well for life.
- in the circumstances, reasonable members of the community would expect Olivia to be well provided for by her father.
At a time when family provision claims are on the rise and people are leaving wealthy estates, this case gives a unique insight into relevant considerations of the Court when hearing these matters. It is also a useful reminder that while everyone should seek expert legal advice in relation to their estate planning, even the seemingly best and most expensive arrangements cannot prevent a challenge to your estate.
For more information regarding estate disputes or to discuss your rights in relation to a deceased estate, contact a member of our team today.
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