Fair not equal, equal not fair

November 13, 2017

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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