Estate Claims

Here are some other famous cases of contested estates from Australia and abroad.

 J. Howard Marshall II and Anna Nicole Smith

Although oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II wasn’t terribly well known before his death, his 1994 marriage to former Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith – who was 62 years his junior – drew plenty of headline attention.

However, when Marshall died a year later aged 90, he left his $1.6 billion estate to his son Pierce Marshall, with nothing set aside in his will for Smith.

Despite a jury ruling that Marshall was mentally fit when he left the detailed instructions in his will – Smith embarked on a protracted legal battle for a portion of his estate.

Almost two decades after she first contested the will, and seven years after her own death, a judge dismissed all claims made on behalf of Smith to Pierce Marshall’s estate in 2014.

Richard Pratt and his mistresses

Similar to Marshall, Australian ‘cardboard king’ and former Carlton Football club president Richard Pratt, left clear instructions for the division of his $5 billion estate at the time of his 2009 death.

That didn’t prevent his former mistress Shari-Lea Hitchcock, with whom he had a daughter, from contesting it a year later, however.

In July 2015, Hitchcock and her daughter reached a multi-million dollar settlement which, although substantial, can hardly compare to the billions Pratt’s children with wife Jeanne have inherited.

A second mistress, former Penthouse Pet and sex worker Madison Ashton also came forward claiming that Pratt had promised her a series of entitlements including a $500,000 a year allowance and a $5 million trust for her children.

While the court determined that a conversation stating those terms had taken place between Pratt and Ashton, she was not entitled to a portion of his estate.

Howard Hughes and a petrol station owner

A set of circumstances similar to Prince’s unfolded after Howard Hughes’ 1976 death. With no children or current spouse, the famed aviation pioneer and Hollywood icon had no direct heir to his fortune and left no verified will.

After an extensive search, a number of unofficial documents surfaced including a handwritten one that pledged $156 million of Hughes’ $2.5 billion estate to a man who owned a remote petrol station and whose kindness in once giving a stranded Hughes a lift, was at the centre of his 1980 film Melvin and Howard. That document was later rejected.

A number of people claiming to be illegitimate children also came forward, as did a series of women including actress Terry Moore, who claimed to have been married to Hughes but was unable to present any documentation to that end.

When the estate was eventually settled, a large portion went to Hughes’ cousins and distant relatives.

Lang Hancock and Gina Rinehart

Eleven years after Australian billionaire and iron ore magnate Lang Hancock passed away in 1992, his estate was finally settled.

It followed a drawn-out court battle between Hancock’s daughter Gina Rinehart, and his second wife Rose Porteous, as the former attempted to take back $30 million worth of assets from her father’s former maid-turned-lover.

Their lengthy litigation process included accusations on Rinehart’s part that Porteous had worked to contribute to her father’s death of multiple organ failure, while at the other end, Porteous accused her daughter-in-law of paying witnesses to provide false testimony against her.

The case was finally settled in 2003 when both parties agreed to a truce, the details of which were kept private.
For Rinehart however, the legal battles did not end there as she went on to negotiate the terms of her children’s trust fund in court.

 Farmer Son

There has been an important case decided in the Supreme Court of South Australia about farm succession planning. The name of the case is Rodda v Rodda and it was decided on 1 July 2015 by Judge Nicholson.

In that case the Court found that over the course of a long relationship between the father and his son that various promises had been made by the father to the son about the son’s future ownership of farming land and equipment. The son relied on those promises. After a series of disagreements the father then excluded the son from the farming and business and disinherited him.

The Judge found that the son was entitled to a remedy to recognise in a just and proportionate manner the son’s unfulfilled expectation to the beneficial interest in the farm as promised to him by his father. The Judge in reaching his decision found that the father effectively owned the farming and grazing property on a constructive trust for the son. The take home message from the case is that farmers, and other family businesses need to be very careful to document and to set out in a detailed way the handover of the farm from one generation to another and that when this is not done properly and it is possible for the younger generation to successfully sue on promises made in conversations, perhaps in the shearing shed or even over the kitchen table about their future entitlement to the farming business.