Dunedin family feuds over $1m will

WILMA MCCORKINDALE
Last updated 11:05 15/08/2014

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An elderly Dunedin woman says she is devastated after losing a long fight with her adult children to preserve the provisions of their late father's will.

> Update: Challenging $1.2m will 'was never about money'

However, a decision from the High Court at Dunedin found that "much of their [the couple's] parenting was undesirable", and the woman "mistreated" the children while their dad was "too passive".

After five years of legal battles, the woman has been unable to prevent her children's claim on her late husband's $1 million-plus estate, assets they built up as a couple over their marriage of more than 50 years.

The woman is in her 70s and says she is in poor health.

She said she tells her estranged children: "I'm not dead yet."

If she had died before her husband, the children would have got $25,000 each, the remainder going to a vulnerable children's charity.

A court suppression prevents publication of material identifying her and other parties involved in the case.

The case marked a landmark in New Zealand family law, the High Court noted in its written decision.

It was the first of its kind of a will, in which the estate was left to the surviving spouse who was still alive, being challenged by biological children, the decision said.

In the Family Court, the judge found the father did not owe a moral duty to support his children but did owe a moral duty to them in terms of their maintenance. The judge adjusted the will, awarding the children and grandchild 5 per cent of the estate, except for one child who was deemed to be coping financially, who was awarded 3 per cent.

The High Court ruled this should be increased to 10 per cent for each of the children, and 5 per cent for the grandchild.

The offspring said their father and grandfather failed in his moral duties to them as his children and grandchild. He had failed to make adequate provision from his estate for them in the knowledge his widow was likely to exclude them from her will.

The court established the deceased and his wife had shared a belief, documented in the will, that their children all be given the opportunity to adequately provide for themselves. The parents' belief was so strong they had themselves not accepted any of their parents' estates.

The woman's lawyer said the case was unusual in that it was "kids attacking one of the parents".

The decision was "surprising", he said.

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The concern was that, in terms of property relationships, it now seemed that not only parties who separated could lose half of their assets, he said.

"It could happen on death too," the lawyer said.

The children and grandchild could not be reached for comment. 

This story has been edited since it was first published to better reflect the judgment. The mother's age has also been corrected.

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