Siblings left with nothing, will appeal

MARTY SHARPE
Last updated 05:00 27/07/2013

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A wealthy cattle breeder was suffering from a serious mental illness the day she cut her brother and sister out of her $2 million will.

The next day, she killed herself, leaving everything to her husband.

Donna Bengston's brother and sister took their case to the High Court, claiming she was not in a fit state of mind to change her will. Now the court has ruled that, despite clear evidence of serious mental illness, there was nothing unusual about her decision.

Mrs Bengston, 52, a charolais cattle breeder from Hawke's Bay, altered her will on February 27 last year, leaving her estate to husband Peter. She took her life in a shed on the couple's Grassways farm the next day.

The new will replaced one she made in 2007, bequeathing her cattle to various fellow breeders, 70 per cent of her remaining estate to her husband, and 30 per cent to her brother Kim Moleta, and sister Glynis Moleta.

Justice David Collins' decision to reject the Moletas' claims was published on Thursday. Yesterday, Mrs Bengston's entire charolais herd was sold at the Feilding cattle sales. Mr Bengston declined to comment when contacted after the sale.

The Moletas claimed in the High Court at Napier last month that their sister was not in a fit state of mind to change her will. Had she been fit, she would have ensured the continuance of her life's work in charolais breeding.

They do not claim that Mr Bengston asserted any undue influence on his wife, but believe she "did not understand the moral claims of those who should have been considered beneficiaries".

Mr Bengston claimed his wife fulfilled all legal mental capacity criteria when she made the will.

Justice Collins found psychiatric evidence unanimously established that she suffered serious mental illness when she made the will, but her decision to bequeath her entire estate to her husband was not unusual.

The Moletas have appealed against the decision, and did not wish to comment yesterday.

Mr and Mrs Bengston met in 1992, when Mrs Bengston was working on her parents' farm near Hastings. They married in 2003.

In 1994 they bought Grassways farm at Takapau. Mr Bengston suffered a serious accident in 1993 and has been an ACC beneficiary since, although still able to work on the farm.

In 1995 Mrs Bengston made a will with her husband as beneficiary of half her estate. The couple had no children.

Mr Bengston said his wife began showing signs of obsessive behaviour around this time and became increasingly concerned about her herd becoming "contaminated".

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She began treatment for mild depression in 2005. In late 2011 Mr Bengston and others began noticing changes in her behaviour. She obsessed about hygiene, transmission of disease and had panic attacks.

Despite this, she appeared to be able to function adequately.

She was prescribed a variety of medications but, by early last year, her condition had deteriorated badly. She saw a psychiatrist on February 8 and February 21, and a mental health nurse on February 17, and denied having thoughts of suicide on each occasion.

On February 27, the couple went to their lawyer's office in Waipukurau to discuss selling Grassways and changing their wills. Each left everything to the other.

Mrs Bengston told staff at the firm that she wanted "a simple husband and wife will". The staff were not told that she was being treated for a mental illness.

Mr Bengston last saw his wife standing by an entrance to a shed on the farm about 6.45am on February 28. She died between 7.30am and 9.30am.

Two psychiatrists concluded Mrs Bengston was seriously mentally unwell, but Justice Collins found that this did not mean she lacked the capacity to consider "moral claims".

She had already decided to sell the farm and cattle, and the only person with moral claim to the estate was Mr Bengston.

- The Dominion Post

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