1492580521710 - Court fight over family inheritance sees will invalidated

Court fight over family inheritance sees will invalidated

A wealthy widow’s will has been declared invalid because she may have been on a cocktail of painkillers and alcohol when she made it, a court has heard.

The inheritance stoush, which played out in the High Court at Auckland, laid bare “unhappy differences” between family members, Justice Patricia Courtney said in a March judgment.

Allison Slater and her late husband Paul accumulated an estimated $2 million running a country hotel in England. The pair had no children.

Slater was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and made a will splitting her estate equally between her nephews and nieces: Thomas Loosley, Nick Loosley, Kate Powell, Benjamin Powell and Mark Eleveld.

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But on April 29, 2014 – nine days before her death on May 8 – Slater met her solicitor, Terence McDell, and told him to draw up a new will awarding the bulk of her estate to Thomas and Nick Loosley.

The document awarded between $50,000 and $100,000 to other family members.

On May 2, Thomas’ and Nick’s father Robert Loosley phoned McDell, asking him to bring the document to Dove Hospice, where Slater had been admitted. Slater signed it later that day.

Slater was on painkillers and potentially even alcohol in the lead-up to her death, and had been known to drink “far too much”, Justice Courtney said.

“There is a real risk that she was suffering from a level of delirium or from confusion resulting from the toxic build-up of Oxynorm in her system,” the judge said.

“Allison was known within the family as a heavy drinker and was drinking as late as . . . ten days after being prescribed Oxynorm,” the judge said.

Justice Courtney noted conflicting promises made by Slater to her nieces and nephews in the months prior to her death, saying Slater was affectionate but also fickle and had a “noticeable habit of criticising friends and family behind their backs”.

In February 2014, Slater had promised Kate Powell that she would not have to worry about her student loan because Slater hoped to split her assets evenly between her nephews and nieces, the judgment said.

A month later, in March 2014, she told Thomas Loosley she found Benjamin and Kate Powell “incredibly irritating” and planned to leave her estate to Thomas and Nick, the court heard.

However, she changed her mind two days later, asking Kate to visit her and telling her the estate would be split evenly after she died, the judgment said.

Justice Courtney quoted Slater’s mother, Evelyn Farn, as saying Slater was: “an extremely difficult person – swinging from loving to hating people for no apparent reason and she was easily manipulated by those who knew her well”.

Justice Courtney declared the 2014 document leaving the bulk of the estate to the Loosley brothers invalid, saying there was evidence Slater could have been suffering from delirium when she signed it.

However, Justice Courtney said she had no basis to validate the 2011 will either.

Justice Courtney said the family would need to seek probate if they wanted that will executed.