Wills and estates – Administration Act 1969, s 19 – claim for inadequate provision under will – statutory interpretation – administration of estate cannot be re-opened
Lane v Goldson  NZHC 2620 per Downs J.
Donald Gifford lived with Alzheimer’s disease and passed away on 26 February 2022. In his will, he appointed his partner of 30 years, Anne Goldson, and his son, Benjamin Goldson, as executors.
Gifford’s only significant remaining asset was his home in St Mary’s Bay, Auckland, worth between $3.8 million and $4.5m. He dissolved the trust that had held the property and placed the home in Anne Goldson’s name to finance his care, provide for her when he died, and acknowledge her substantial financial contribution (an estimated $500,000) to home repairs. The house was therefore not part of Gifford’s estate, which was insolvent.
Gifford had another partner and he referred to a woman called Rebecca Lane as his daughter in his will. Lane considered Gifford her father and claimed physical resemblances. Despite this, Lane’s birth certificate listed a different man as her father. Scientific intervention was not sought to resolve the question.
Lane received $5,000 in Gifford’s will. According to Goldson, Gifford believed this to be enough because Lane received between $3m and $4m from her mother’s estate as a result of legal claims. A relationship breakdown resulted from those claims and Gifford and Lane were estranged until his death. Lane never inquired about his wellbeing or visited him.
But she believed Gifford failed to provide for her adequately in his will and failed to discharge his moral duty to her as his daughter.
Lane sought an order to appoint the Public Trust to administer Gifford’s estate.
Downs J explained how s 19 of the Administration Act 1969 requires executor(s) to have neglected or refused to prove the will before court intervention is allowed. The judge said it was not evident the executors had done so but even if they had, he gave three reasons for not granting an order.
First, it was not clear that s 19 was an appropriate vehicle for what Lane sought to achieve. Downs J quoted Chisholm J in Ruocco v Wright  BCL 119, which said “s 19(1) was not intended to permit administration of an estate to be re-opened after it has been lawfully concluded”. Gilford’s estate had been wound up so Chisholm J’s reasoning applied.
Second, it was not clear the Public Trust, if appointed, would be given leave to bring a claim under s 25(1)(a) of the Property (Relationships) Act.
Third, Lane had not offered evidence about how the proposed activities by, and on behalf of, the insolvent estate would be funded.
Applicable principles: statutory interpretation – purpose of s 19 of the Administration Act 1969 – administration of estate cannot be re-opened after being lawfully concluded – Ruocco v Wright  BCL 119 – lack of evidence.
Held: The application was dismissed. Lane was required to pay costs to Anne and Benjamin Goldson, as the executors.
Vivian Mitchell is an LLB/BA graduate.