The youngest daughter of iron ore magnate Michael Wright has been vindicated in her challenge to the family estate, and awarded $25 million in a landmark ruling.
Master Craig Sanderson told the WA Supreme Court that the $3 million trust left for 19 year-old Olivia Mead in Wright’s will contained provisions that “could operate in an entirely oppressive fashion,” The West Australian reported.
Sanderson said the trust would have entirely excluded Mead if she was convicted of drink-driving or drug possession, or even if she was suspected of being involved with someone who used an illicit substance.
The judge said it was “egregious” that one provision would have excluded Mead if she associated with people who practiced other religions like Buddhism or Islam.
"Most Australians would regard freedom of religion as part of their birthright,” Sanderson said
"The plaintiff in order to be sure the trust would vest in her when she turned 30 would have to give up that basic human right.
"That is an extraordinary proposition."
AAP reported there was a collective gasp of relief and disbelief as the decision was read before the court.
Olivia Mead had made a claim of $20 million, the same amount that was awarded to her brother Myles Wright, and appeared shocked to hear Master Sanderson’s decision to award her $25 million.
Sanderson said his decision to award $25 million was based on the “colossal” size of Wright’s estate, estimated at more than $1 billion.
“Even in this day and age $25 million is a considerable amount of money. But in the context of this estate it is little more than a rounding error,” he said.
Mead’s mother Liz was reportedly teary-eyed on hearting the ruling, and neither made any comment as they left the courtroom.
Defendants and daughters of Michael Wright, Leonie Baldock and Alexandra Burt, were not present in the court for the decision, however representation for the estate implied the prospect of an appeal, stating “The estate acknowledges the Master’s finding and we are considering our position at this time.”
Sanderson said Mead did not seem to him “a gold digger or in some way a narcissistic greedy individual,” despite a series of bizarre luxury items listed in the initial claim, and was “in no sense… spoilt by her father”.
“During her childhood the deceased provided little to the plaintiff or her mother in material support,” Sanderson said.
“He did pay childcare as he was obliged to do under the relevant legislation.
“He paid for school fees for a private college and he provided the plaintiff with some pocket money. But really that was the extent of his largesse.
“Any gifts he gave the plaintiff were of nominal value.
“The deceased never purchased a home in which the plaintiff and her mother could live despite the fact they moved a number of times from one rented premises to another.”
Sanderson said of the $45 million left in the trust, sisters Baldock and Burt would each receive approximately $10 million each, less $1 million for legal costs.
“That is on top of the $400 million they already have. And they can rest easy in the knowledge their half-sister will be financially secure for the rest of her life.”
The judge criticised Wright with a scathing disapproval of his failure to properly handle his estate during the six months before his death.
Sanderson said he did not make adequate provisions for Mead, and could have been free to distribute his estate as he wished while alive which would have prevented disputes over the estate, but instead took a path which would preclude the need to pay taxes.
“If the deceased had taken that course of action he would have been liable for millions of dollars in, effectively, gift duty. The price the deceased paid for passing his assets tax free to his nominated beneficiaries was acceptance of the statutory duty arising under the Act to the plaintiff,” he said.
Image: Colin Murty