Fair not equal, equal not fair

How very sad for everyone involved that a dispute over a will ended up in court:

A woman who claimed it was unfair her brother was left the family farm while she received $1 million and a bach has again failed to get a bigger slice of their parents’ estate.

The Talbot family has been farming in South Canterbury for generations. The principal farm, Kingsborough Farm, was initially bought by the siblings’ grandfather in 1915.

It was run by Edwin and Pamela Talbot until their elder years when their only son, Graham, took over the management and financial responsibility of Kingsborough from 2006.

When Edwin and Pamela died in 2014 and 2015, respectively, they granted probate of their estates to Graham in their wills – something that had previously been discussed among the whole family.

“The evidence at trial established that Graham worked long hours on Kingsborough, that he took minimal drawings, and that it is likely that the farm would have had to have been sold if Graham had not left school to work on it,” the Court of Appeal’s decision said. 

This is not an unusual situation.

One or more family members works on the farm, taking minimal drawings, ploughing more  back into the farm; making a significant contribution to the maintenace, development and capital growth of the property; and earning a bigger share of the estate than other family members who sacrifice and contribute nothing.

Jillian and her sister Rachel – an “unwilling but necessary” participant in the court proceedings – had not shown an interest in working on the farm, which their parents had wanted to keep in the family.

“It was their intention from at least 1999, and probably earlier, that Graham, as the only child who had shown any interest in farming Kingsborough, should receive the family farm, and that Rachel and Jillian should share equally in the remainder of their estates.”

The couple left Jillian and Rachel over $1m each with Jillian also being given the family bach.

The Court of Appeal said the key issue for it to determine was whether or not adequate provision had been made from the estate to meet Jillian’s needs. . .

“In our judgment, a sum a little in excess of $1 million is, on any objective assessment, and at the least, a moderate amount. It is not provision so small as to leave a justifiable sense of exclusion from participation in the family estate,” the decision said. . . 

The farm was worth $4 million.  That wouldn’t be a large property and it’s probable an equal division of the estate would have forced more debt on the business than it could sustain.

Farm succession and inheritance can be complex and in situations like this equal isn’t fair and fair isn’t equal.

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One Response to Fair not equal, equal not fair

  1. Gravedodger says:

    Another example of the disconnect between urban and rural.
    There were many instances in recent decades that would have seen the one million cash and a half share in a “batch” as a grander outcome for the two females and far superior for the son with the probably indebted farm.

    As a sympathetic ear Swmbo and self became a support role for one of two sons who were left owing hundreds of thousands to three daughters by a senile old centurian. Thankfully one of the sons was a record keeper extradordinaire and the court rapidly threw out the basic unfairness of the daughters claims when it was proved that they and one in particular had enjoyed many instances of a “Bailout” from total stupidity in managing their personal lives. The five were approaching retirement age and the impost on the sons was gross elder abuse as they had been the rock for the old man through nearly forty years of declining mental status.

    As Maori constantly remind us land is spiritual and has a great affinity for those who end up caring and retaining it within a family while an aging family home in an urban environment is only a house and often not where it is of any value as a home anymore.
    Farms are different and yes as you point out in your post fraught when succession and inheritance comes along, as it will.

    Another example in my circle has a son working a family farm for twenty years in somewhat straightened circumstances while two sisters married other farmers in successional outcomes only to have the eldest female convince her mum and dad she should follow them and the son, who is married to a woman, denied a share of her family farm is now involved in early childhood education and doing well. When I phoned a mutual acquaintance who would be better to have a heads up as to what had occurred his first response was a rather explosive, “how many farms does one need”.

    In these events often fueled by greed and envy the big winners are often the Lawyers, money for old rope for them.

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