Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Sharing the spoils

Nasty disputes over wills are always riveting. And this is a juicy one. After an Australian millionaire left her ex-husband and three daughters just 90 pence each*, the daughters have gone to court to dispute the will.

They're claiming that 81 year old Valmai Roche was delusional when she drafted the will and falsely believed they had plotted to kill her own mother.

Ms Roche, from Adelaide, left the bulk of her A$3.5 million estate to a Catholic charity, the Knights of the Southern Cross. She claimed her daughters didn't need the money because they "have been adequately provided for".

One daughter, Fiona Roche, is indeed far from penniless, heading the hugely successful Roche Group of companies. The position of the other two daughters, Shauna Roche and Deborah Hamilton, has not been disclosed.

Ms Roche's mother died in a nursing home but it's not revealed exactly how she died or whether the circumstances were suspicious.

Further details will emerge when the case comes back to court in May.

Valmai Roche looks to me like a wise old bird who knew exactly what she was doing when she made her will, but who can tell?

I do wonder why Fiona Roche is contesting the will if she's already extremely well-off and doesn't need the money. Is it just greed? Some sort of grudge? A publicity stunt?

Was their mother really delusional or are the daughters just dragging her name through the mud and painting themselves as avaricious schemers?

Once again the invisible beneficiaries are the lawyers, who will no doubt make a tidy sum by the time the case draws to its venomous conclusion. There's no fury like three women scorned....

*A$1.49 or US$1.39. The will actually refers to "thirty pieces of silver", the price for which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus. The reference to betrayal is intriguing.

Pic: Valmai Roche with a portrait of herself

PS: See the comment from someone who "knows the family very well" and says Valmai Roche made a later will leaving everything to her two granddaughters Alexandra and Airlie. The will was never finalised or signed, which is why her daughters have gone to court. The implication is that the daughters want the money to go to her granddaughters rather than to a charity.

28 comments:

kylie said...

the report i saw said she left them each 30 pieces of silver of the smallest denomination. i thought that was pretty interesting.
a friend of mine seems to have an interest in contested wills and she seems to think that contesting is mainly only a good idea when a person has no inheritance at all. the way she says it seems to me that the law will provide for those who might have been forgotten but not those who have been deliberately scorned.
anyhow, i have no idea if the theory is correct.
it's interesting

Nick said...

Kylie - You're right, I translated the 30 pieces of silver into something simpler! I think your friend is correct. If you contest a will just because you've been scorned, it's 50/50 the court will rule against you and then you just look mean - plus you've got a hefty legal bill.

kylie said...

hah! look, i said interesting twice


oh, and "seems" too many times altogether

i'd better get to bed

Nick said...

Kylie - That's very interesting. Or so it seems. Happy dreams!

RT News said...

Yeah, millionaires like to do these things. Russian billionaire Potanin decided to deprive his 5 sons of any money. In order to encourage them to do something themselves.

Nick said...

RT - Yes, I've heard several times of rich parents doing that. Probably in many cases a good idea, having seen what happens to children who've never had to think about money. But Valmai Roche's motive was different because she said her children were already well provided for.

Scarlet Blue said...

I am leaving my small fortune to a blogging charity. I hope my relatives will be at peace with this.
Sx

Wisewebwoman said...

To me, it all begs the answer to just how good were these Knights of the Southern Cross to her, hm?
XO
WWW

Nick said...

Scarlet - Liar liar, pants on fire. What fortune? Is that the one from your sex-toy empire? Or your lingerie chain? Or just playing the saxophone?

www - Oddly enough, it's a men-only organisation, so why she supported them (or what they might have done for her) is a total mystery.

Fat Sparrow said...

It's an "estate," so that can mean a lot of things, a house, a set of companies, investments, what-have-you. It's possible your woman thinks that she is entitled to some of that if she contributed to it or it has sentimental value, or if she thinks it's likely to be worth more in the future and is undervalued in the economy right now. She may honestly believe that her mother was under the undue influence of some other person or organization, and feels that she is justified.

Nasty thing when people cark it and the survivors contest wills. My grandma left her small house to my mom, as my mom and dad were the one that took care of my grandma, supported her, paid her nursing home bills, etc. All my mom's other siblings agreed to it, they weren't interested in taking care of grandma, and they were pretty well-off. When grandma died, some years went by, 2 of my uncles fell on hard times (by drinking and philandering their business into the ground) and they took my mom to court. My mom lost the house, even though the will had been through probate and my mom had proof that grandma meant for her to have the house, and that my mom and dad had supported her both financially and otherwise, when the siblings had done nothing.

Nick said...

Sparrow - There may well be more to the "estate" than meets the eye. We shall have to wait for the full court hearing to fill in the blanks.

It's outrageous that your mother lost the house just because her siblings decided they wanted it. How come the court decided in the siblings' favour?

Baino said...

I agree with Fat Sparrow, things get dirty when there's a deceased estate at stake. Leaving them $1.90 was a signal alright adding insult to injury. It's a huge organisation worldwide and there are big bikkies to be had if the daughters are eligible for a slice of the business. 3.5 sounds purely like her personal wealth so maybe it's worth the court case. Sounds like greed to me. Or sour grapes.

Fat Sparrow said...

Grandma had had several strokes, which affected her body but not her mind. The judge bought my uncle's lawyers argument that she wasn't in her right mind, despite the fact that her doctor even submitted medical evidence and was willing to testify for my mom. Grandma's doctor was livid, he knew her for years. Basically, my uncles had a better lawyer. The judge didn't even allow my grandma's doctor to testify. Years later, I'm still at a loss as to the "justice" of it. My mom was crushed, as not only did she lose her childhood home, but her brothers knowingly lied about her and grandma. That was really the part that she couldn't get over, the purposeful betrayal of trust.

Nick said...

Baino - I'm confused. So the Roche Group is worldwide? Is that the huge drugs business or another one? Whatever the size of the assets at stake, surely her daughters aren't entitled to anything unless they've earned it in some way?

Sparrow - The whole court case stinks. The judge was clearly biased and the brothers lied shamelessly. It looks like a potent mixture of sexism, ageism and greed. How heartbreakingly sad for your mum.

Rummuser said...

Nick, I have been interested in the Indian cases of contents of wills being fought in courts, the biggest of them being the ones fought by the Birlas and their Chartered Accountant.http://www.livemint.com/2008/10/04002843/Lodha-dies-in-London-cases-no.html

My interest however has been post dispensation. The inheritors inevitably lose it all sooner than later!

Many families now arrange the settlements while the person concerned is still alive so that there are no disputes after that person's time. Seems to work better.

Nick said...

Ramana - Perhaps that's one reason she didn't give them a large sum, because she thought they would just squander it? Surely pre-death settlements might be just as liable to arguments, or is that not the case?

Megan said...

I am still a bit upset at my grandma and her siblings (not that any of them are still alive to be bothered by it) for selling Great-Aunt Eleanor's house when she died.

But never have I said I had any right to have had any say in it. (Whew, decipher that grammar if you can!)

I just really loved that damn house. I miss it!

Nick said...

Megan - That's a shame. But I guess even if you'd opposed the sale at the time, you might still have been outvoted.

That's a magnificent bit of grammar. I'm green with envy....

Saint Dolores said...

There are going to be SO many Law&Order episodes and penny mysteries written about this within the next couple months....

heartinsanfrancisco said...

If she had omitted mention of them, the will could have been contested on grounds of mental incompetence. She neatly got around that by demonstrating that she didn't forget them while leaving them as little as possible.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out. People should realize that they are not automatically entitled to money just because their parent has it.

Nick said...

Dolores - It's certainly got all the ingredients for a bestselling novel! You couldn't make it up, as they say.

Heart - Good point about mental incompetence. Definitely a wise old bird. And yes, children are not automatically entitled to anything.

Rummuser said...

Pre-death settlements so far to my knowledge have not resulted in disputes, though I do not rule them out.

Nick said...

Ramana - That sounds like a pretty good arrangement then.

Anonymous said...

i actually know this particular family - the Roche-Hamilton's - very well

in fact, Valmai Roche DID create another will in 2007/2008 but never got around to finalising and signing it

in the will, she left everything to her two granddaughters, Alexandra and Airlie - who weren't even ALIVE when the original 1981 will was made

THAT is why the family is contesting the will - no other reason really - as they are indeed wealthy

this is for her grand-daughters who she loved very much

Nick said...

Anon - Thanks for that information. I have to take it on trust that you do know the family and there was indeed a second will. If she intended to leave everything to her granddaughters that creates a further complication. And I rather suspected that her other two children were also wealthy.

secret agent woman said...

Much like in iovorces, there is always more to the story than most people know. It's intriguing.

Nick said...

Secret Agent - Very true about divorces. There're many things the partners are too embarrassed or traumatised about to mention.

Anonymous said...

Anon's got it wrong.
The 2008 will left most of her stuff to the charity 'Doctors Without Borders' and some to one of her daughters (not the two scarecrows who rekon she was mad when she made the will their scrabbling over in court- looks like they dreamed up the 'granddaughters' idea to make themselves look better to me). In 20 or so years, she'd probably changed her mind about giving anything to the catholic church people... she had a big public voice in favour of euthanasia.
Shame the Doctor charity aren't being given anything ay?