Inheritance dispute over jewellery reaches the Supreme Court

Published 17 Jul 2017

A woman has taken her brother and sister to court over a dispute regarding jewellery that allegedly formed part of their mother’s estate.

The deceased passed away in December 2013, splitting her assets between her four children. The plaintiff and one of her brothers – the second defendant – received 30 per cent each, while her sister – the first defendant – and another brother both received 20 per cent.

Conflict arose when the defendants refused to pay the plaintiff her share of the $137,012 estate because they claimed she was already in possession of $30,000 worth of their mother’s jewellery.

However, the plaintiff argued that the deceased gifted her the items prior to the latter’s death, so they should not be considered part of the estate. She also said the jewellery was only valued at $6,685.

Pursuing an inheritance dispute

According to the plaintiff, the defendants owed her a $30,000 lump sum from the estate to cover her 30 per cent share as a beneficiary.

The defendants disputed that the jewellery was a gift, adding that the trinkets their sister had valued for the purposes of her case were only a selection of the items she took from the deceased.

Justice Arthur Emmett said the situation was “most unfortunate” because the fees incurred taking the dispute to court would comprise a large proportion of the $30,000 in question.

Nevertheless, he added that “matters of principle” appeared to be a major factor in pursuing the case, suggesting the parties were less concerned about the money involved and instead wanted an impartial decision.

The judge’s ruling

Neither defendant enlisted the services of a lawyer, with only the plaintiff’s brother appearing in court to give evidence. However, he failed to provide any proof other than his own personal estimates regarding the value of his mother’s jewellery.

“[The second defendant] has no qualifications as a valuer. He is a qualified and experienced wall and floor tiler, but there is no evidence that he had any knowledge or experience in relation to the value of jewellery,” said Justice Emmett.

As such, the judge ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to an order giving her $30,000 from the deceased’s estate, although he admitted there was little evidence to suggest the jewellery was offered as a gift.

Do you need legal representation for an inheritance dispute? Gerard Malouf & Partners Will Dispute Lawyers can help you with contesting a will, filing a family provision claim and other estate-related litigation.

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