‘Bushy’s’ friend denied $1m will fortune
A WOMAN who was left $1.5 million in her Goondiwindi friend's last will is set to get only $500,000 out of his $7.4 million estate, after a judge ruled the will invalid.
Justice Peter Applegarth was satisfied Norm Hottes, a bachelor with no children, lacked testamentary capacity when he made his third will just a few months before his death.
Mr Hottes, a "bushy at heart'' who hated paying taxes and was careful with his money, left his entire estate to his Goondiwindi neighbours, Justin and Vikki Rowe, in his first will in 2016.
Mr Hottes, who died last year aged 87, had lived alone on his Goondiwindi property since 2004, but almost every Sunday he would visit the Rowe family, the Supreme Court heard.
He had increasingly relied upon the couple after he developed a series of chronic illnesses, before and after he moved from his property into aged care.
In his second 2016 will, Mr Hottes gave a $500,000 gift to his friend of 30 years, Kathy Sudholz, and the remainder of the estate to the Rowes, the executors of his will.
But in November 2017, Mr Hottes made a third will, instructing his solicitor to increase the gift to Ms Sudholz from $500,000 to $1.5 million.
Mr Hottes did not explain why he was making the substantial change and the solicitor did not ask him, despite "alarm bells ringing'' about his testamentary capacity, the court heard.
Mr Hottes, an ex-truckie, had run a transport business until he had an accident at age 77. Before he got too sick, he would tinker in his shed, search for useful things at the dump and pick fruit.
On weekdays, he would drive into Goondiwindi to sit with other elderly town folk outside the council chambers, on what was known by locals as the "Seat of Knowledge''.
As his health declined, the Rowes would help around his property or with his car, sort his business problems, and in 2013 they became his attorneys for financial and health matters.
Years before his death, Mr Hottes told Ms Sudholz he wanted to leave her his house and he also offered to pay off her mortgage, but she declined the offers.
The court heard that after the Rowes went on an overseas trip in 2016, Mr Hottes became depressed and confused, and he felt abandoned.
Soon after their return, a solicitor obtained instructions from Mr Hottes, over the phone, to prepare a new will, his third.
Justice Applegarth said when he signed the new will, on November 28, 2017, Mr Hottes suffered from dementia and cognitive impairment, and was unwell.
"The evidence strongly suggests that his mental faculties had been so affected as to make him unequal to the task of making a will, even a relatively simple will of the kind he made,'' the judge said.
But Justice Applegarth found that when he made his second 2016 will, Mr Hottes was not so affected by dementia, depression or other conditions that he could not make decisions.
He was satisfied Mr Hottes had testamentary capacity to make that will, in which he left Ms Sudholz $500,000, with the rest of the estate to go to the Rowes.
At the time of his death, Mr Hottes's assets totalled $7,437,530, including $3.3 million in cash and term deposits, and $2.6 million in shares.