Court hands multi-million-dollar inheritance to woman’s neighbour
A family has been left empty-handed after a court decision handed strangers the keys to their relative’s multi-million-dollar properties.
The late Barbara Murphy owned 66 and 68 Louisa Road in Birchgrove, in Sydney’s Inner West.
“She went to every auction that was on in Birchgrove, she knew the prices of all the houses and she was extremely money conscious,” Bev Maunsell, who lived across the road for more than 30 years, told A Current Affair.
“She’d been brought up in the Depression.”
The year before her death in 2015, Ms Murphy changed her will to give her neighbour David Moore $25,000.
But she left her entire estate – at the time worth $11 million – to her siblings, Don and Marion.
After Ms Murphy passed away, Mr Moore, Ms Murphy’s neighbour, contested the will in court.
He claimed Ms Murphy promised to leave him her entire estate if he didn’t put on an extension that blocked her views and ensured she never went into care.
During the almost six-year legal fight, Ms Murphy’s two siblings died and for the family, the legal fees piled up.
But for the next-door neighbours, where there was a will there was a way and in October 2020 they got their windfall.
The court decided that the care and support that the neighbours provided to Ms Murphy over the years, at the expense of their own commitments, was sufficient to uphold the promise that Mr Moore says was made.
And that was enough to hand them the keys to the waterfront properties.
Carol Gaarde, David Hickman and Shirley Archer are Marion’s step-children.
They believed they would have ultimately received the estate.
“You had an elderly woman who had two Sydney harbour waterfront properties no children to leave it to, only (an) older brother and sister,” Mr Hickman said.
Ms Archer said the family had looked after Marion and in turn should have received her share of Ms Murphy’s inheritance.
“That our legal system would allow a promise, a proprietary estoppel, to supersede a will – I’m gobsmacked,” Ms Archer said.
“We looked after Marion, as you do as family.
“We looked after her, I think very well, and as she progressively got ill.
“All she wanted to do was to provide for us, so she was very happy to pass on some of that inheritance to her step-children.”
Ms Gaarde said she needed the money from Ms Murphy’s estate to get by.
“I’m not very well off. I don’t have a lot of money to retire. I’m probably going to be eating dog food. I mean we should have got some of that,” she said.
“We were told that really it was a will and it was not going to change you know and yet this happened, it was just unbelievable.”
Property expert Michael Pallier said the properties are worth approximately $8 million each.
“So currently the two homes combined are worth approximately $16 million, and they would be very saleable items,” he said.
“They’re probably worth about $6 million more now than they were six years ago.”
Lawyer Sam Macedone said the situation was “very rare”.
“The more I read the case, the more surprising it became to me and I thought, wow, you know this has actually happened,” he said.
Mr Macedone said the case should serve as a warning.
“If you’ve got elderly people in your family, look after them, keep in touch with them make sure that you attend to all of their needs because if you just let the neighbours look after them or some stranger look after them, then don’t expect you’re going to get the balance of the estate,” he said.