Man's suicide note rejected as will

KIRSTY MCMURRAY
Last updated 12:55 08/05/2014

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A Taranaki man's attempt to cut his sister out of his will in his suicide note has been rejected by the High Court.

Justice Goddard, sitting in Wellington, found the deteriorating health of New Plymouth man Garth Hilton Hughes, 88, impaired his ability to think rationally and meant he could not legally amend his will at the time of his death.

Hughes committed suicide in his home on March 6, 2013.

The handwritten suicide note addressed to his lawyer Paul Fitzgibbons said he and his sister, Aileen Fitzmaurice, 84, had a serious disagreement and he wanted his assets to be given to the Salvation Army.

''I want her to be taken out of any previous agreement,'' it said.

Goddard said it seemed clear on the evidence that Hughes' mental health was suffering and he was unable to think rationally when he wrote the note.

''The letter, perhaps written in an irrational and spiteful moment, as a lashing out against the person closest to him who had done so much to try and help him, may have well been torn up in the morning, had he survived the night.

''It simply cannot now be known whether lucidity and rationality would have returned by the morning.''

During his life Hughes had been in the New Zealand Navy and then worked on the family farm.

He had never married or had a family and enjoyed building model boats.

He was described as a private and independent person.

Fitzmaurice was his only sibling.

The night he died he also opened a birthday card she had written for him and put it on display.

Fitzmaurice had been visiting to look after her brother who had a failing heart and had been told he would no longer be able to look after himself.

The pair argued when she told him she would go back to Australia if he did not decide to go into a rest home.

The High Court judgment said the ultimatum provoked an ''angry outburst'' from Hughes, in which he accused Fitzmaurice of bossing him around.

She found him dead in his garage early the next morning, with the note beside him.

Fitzgibbons accepted the note as Hughes' last will and testament, concluding he was of sound mind.

Fitzmaurice challenged that opinion and submitted that the note was ''a cry of despair from a man who was suffering from anxiety, depression and likely dementia.''

Hughes' neighbours, the Pierces, had looked after him and helped out where they could over the decade they live next door to him.

They described him as becoming consistently unwell, frequently tearful, depressed, reluctant to accept or seek help when he needed it and worried about his future.

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His health had been deteriorating quickly since 2012 and he had been hospitalised three times in 2013.

The Pierces were the only people who visited him until his sister arrived during his last hospitalisation.

Mrs Pierce said she had talked to Hughes about his relationship with his sister, and he had ''lit up'' when told she was coming to visit and take care of him.

She said he spoke with pride and respect for Fitzmaurice's career as a nurse but described her as ''bossy'', and said they often argued when she visited him.

The previous will Hughes had written left his belongings to Fitzmaurice.

The High Court ordered that will to be admitted to probate.

- Taranaki Daily News

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