Son loses battle for inheritance

MARTY SHARPE
Last updated 05:00 22/08/2014

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A son's battle with charities to claw back a contested inheritance has failed, with a High Court ruling he has no right to the money.

Neil Palmer, who now lives in Australia, has argued that proceeds from some of his late mother's property should have gone to him, not the three charities who were bequeathed the money in her husband's will.

Palmer's mother Elsie Burton-Whiting, of Hawke's Bay, met fellow octogenarian Eric Burton in 2005.

They wed in January 2007 and in December that year Burton bought a house for them. Elsie died only days later.

Burton died in March 2012 and, in a will he prepared a month before his death, left his estate to be split evenly among three charities: the Hawke's Bay branches of the Heart Foundation, the RSPCA and Cranford Hospice in Hastings.

Palmer and his wife Heather did not discover that Burton had died until a Christmas card was returned to them last year.

Palmer is the executor and beneficiary of his mother's estate and he claimed that any chattels she took with her into the new house should have been part of her estate.

He claimed that after his mother's death he had told Burton he could continue to use her furniture and household chattels such as pottery for the rest of his life.

Palmer said Burton replied that he would leave everything, including his house and car, to Palmer in his will.

By the time Palmer found out about Burton's death all the chattels belonging to Burton and his wife had been sold for $11,542. The house and car sold for about $400,000.

When the Palmers found that they were not beneficiaries of Burton's estate, they brought a claim for the house and the car.

Despite being outside the time frame for such a claim, in December a judge granted an extension allowing them to do so.

This decision was appealed against in the High Court by the Heart Foundation and the RSPCA.

The Palmers believed that that claim was questionable and felt that at least some of the chattels should have been separate property. But in a judgment reached last month, Justice Sarah Katz allowed the appeal, finding against the Palmers.

Katz said Palmer never had any rights to his mother's chattels, as they were Burton's, and the Palmers could not reasonably show that Burton owed them for the loan of the chattels.

Hawke's Bay RSPCA manager Bruce Wills said the legal action cost thousands of dollars "that we'd much rather had gone to the animals it was intended for, but we do acknowledge the right of people to challenge wills".

A Heart Foundation spokeswoman said the charity was pleased with the decision.

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- The Dominion Post

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