High Court denies extension for long-delayed family protection claim

The court highlighted the substantial risks involved in reopening long-settled estate distributions

High Court denies extension for long-delayed family protection claim

The High Court recently rejected a request to extend the time for making a Family Protection Act (FPA) claim by 45 years.  

The dispute in Gibson v Makgill [2024] NZHC 781, centered on Lynette, who sought to challenge her late father Lewis Wait's will. Lewis Wait died in March 1976, leaving most of his estate to his wife, Nellie, with specific provisions for it to be transferred to their son, Robert, after her death. These provisions required payments to his daughters, Lynette and Gaylene, equalling one-sixth the value of the estate. 

In her August 2022 application, Lynette requested an extension, arguing that a delay occurred because of her father’s promise for an equal share of the estate to all children upon her mother's death. She realised the promise was unmet only after discovering in 2016 that her mother had transferred her share of the family farm to a trust owned by Robert. 

The High Court needed to decide whether to excuse the significant delay in making the claim and whether granting the extension would unfairly prejudice the beneficiaries, particularly Robert, who had based his life decisions on the will’s stipulations. 

The court assessed the principles governing FPA claims, focusing on whether Lynette had received adequate "proper maintenance and support," which includes financial needs and moral obligations. Lynette argued that the will's provisions resulted in unequal distribution, prompting the court to determine if this disparity breached Wait's moral duty. 

The analysis showed that Wait likely expected his wife to balance the unequal treatment through her estate, which she did not do. Furthermore, the court found that granting Lynette an extension would significantly prejudice Robert, who had made life choices based on the will for over 40 years. He would face substantial challenges contesting the claim due to the lengthy delay, including dealing with faded memories and unavailable witnesses. 

Ultimately, the High Court declined to grant Lynette the extension to file her FPA claim, highlighting the crucial need for timeliness and the substantial risks involved in reopening long-settled estate distributions. The court’s ruling emphasised the strict legal boundaries and responsibilities associated with estate management and the potential consequences of delayed legal actions in family inheritance disputes. 

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