A deceased person’s life in a village of Papua New Guinea and his highly valuable Brisbane property. Those were the subject of an interesting deceased estate dispute from the Supreme Court recently (Nendy v Armstrong & Ors  QSC 380).
There were eight claimants in the action, none of whom it appeared were related to the deceased, Terrance Bridges.
The case dealt with a variety of legal issues including equitable estoppel, adverse possession, tenancies at will, licenses to reside, the Statute of Frauds and limitations of actions.
Terrence inherited a Hamilton property from his late mother in the mid-1970s. His mother had been living in the property with “Mrs Humphries” who looked after her and helped with housekeeping.
Terrence, living in Papua New Guinea (PNG) when his mother passed away, allowed Mrs Humphries to continue living in the property as long as she paid the rates and utilities bills, which she did.
Mrs Humphries continued living in the property right up until she died in 2000. Her son had moved in just before she died and was permitted to continue living in the property after her passing.
Terrance (the property owner) passed away a few years later. No one took any steps to administer his deceased estate, so the property remained in his name.
Mrs Humphries’ son continued living in the property, now an asset of Terrance’s deceased estate, all the way up until 2017 when he too passed away.
Up to this point, the property was still technically an asset of Terrance’s deceased estate.
In 2019, court proceedings were commenced against Terrance’s deceased estate by a gentleman from PNG, Mr Nendy. He made an equitable estoppel claim arguing that the property should be his because of what Terrance had promised him. According to Mr. Nendy:
- After Terrence’s mother died, Terrence lived with a family in PNG who later fell on hard times. That family had to move back to their village on the “family land”. Terrance wanted to join them but required the permission of the leader and customary owner of the “family land”, Mr Nendy.
- Terrance promised Mr. Nendy that if Mr Nendy let Terrance live on the “family land” and provided Terrance with food, accommodation and other living needs, Terrance would give Mr Nendy his Hamilton property when he died. Mr Nendy agreed and they shook hands on it.
- So, Terrance lived in the PNG village on the “family land” for the next 20 years, with Mr Nendy ensuring Terrance’s living needs were met, right up until Terrance passed away in 2007.
- However, after Terrance died, no one approached Mr Nendy to transfer of the Hamilton property to him.
- Years later, Mr Nendy commenced his court proceedings to argue that the property should be his.
Mrs. Humphries’ Grandchildren
Grandchildren of Mrs Humphries’ made a counterclaim in Mr Nendy’s proceedings. They disputed that Mr Nendy should have any right to the property, claiming that they should have the right to it.
The grandchildren argued that their grandmother Mrs Humphries acquired the property by adverse possession (she lived there for over 20 years uninterrupted).
Based on their argument, this meant that when Mrs Humphries died, her son (their father) inherited the property, and when he died, the grandchildren inherited it.
Deceased Estate – The Decision
The Judge presiding was required to carefully analyse a wide range of legal issues surrounding adverse possession, tenancies at will, licenses to reside, equitable estoppel, the Statute of Frauds and provisions of the Property Law Act and Limitations of Actions Act.
Ultimately, the Judge’s decision was this:
- As to the grandchildren’s counterclaim, they were not successful. The Court held that Mrs Humphries merely had a ‘licence to occupy’ the property and did not acquire any interest in the property through adverse possession. The grandchildren’s counterclaim was dismissed.
- As to Mr Nendy’s claim, he was successful. The Court said it mattered not that there was no written agreement between Mr Nendy and Terrance. The Court accepted Mr Nendy’s evidence and held that Mr Nendy was entitled to relief based on the equity arising from Terrance’s conduct in making the promise. The Court declared that the property was held on trust for Mr Nendy.
If you would like to learn more about this article, or if you are seeking legal counsel for similar issues, please get in touch with Charlie Young today.