A years-long contest over an ill and childless lawyer’s $27 million estate has been settled by the NSW Supreme Court, delivering former union official Kathy Jackson a million-dollar payout.
Sydney barrister and former local mayor David Rofe QC wrote seven wills and two amendments in the six years before his death in 2017, aged 87.
Described by one barrister friend as “famously tight with money”, the Woollahra man lived for the legal profession, had a mischievous sense of humour and loved wining and dining “in the patrician lifestyle he enjoyed”, Justice Geoff Lindsay said.
But, owing to his “notorious inability or disinclination” to use computers and a diagnosis of vascular dementia in or about 2010, Mr Rofe’s final will in December 2014 was strongly contested.
The estate included about $7.6 million in Sydney property, company shares worth $9 million and super nearing $6 million.
One nephew contended his uncle lacked the capacity to make any will after 2010, while solicitor and lover Nick Llewellyn took issue after a $1.2 million debt forgiveness was taken out of the final will.
Mr Llewellyn admitted erratic behaviour and mental health issues to the court, but denied ever threatening the man he loved and who’d claimed him as a “son”.
His relationship with Mr Rofe was described as “unusual” by the court while he was regarded by some in Mr Rofe’s circle as self-seeking and a “leech”.
Like Mr Llewellyn, the final will left Ms Jackson one-tenth of the estate after the distribution of about $5 million in property and cash.
The former head of the Health Services Union, spared jail for rorting more than $100,000 in member funds, became a trusted companion of Mr Rofe after being introduced by broadcaster Alan Jones in 2012.
Despite sustaining attacks on her credit stemming from her criminal convictions, Ms Jackson had endeavoured to be truthful to the court and there was no basis to find she’d ever knowingly misled the ailing Mr Rofe, Justice Lindsay said.
“At a time when each of them felt in need of friendship, with their worlds collapsing about them, they drew comfort from their friendship,’ he said.
“Ms Jackson’s primary motivation in dealing with the deceased was not a prospect of financial gain.”
A doctor present when Mr Rofe made his final will told the court the wealthy lawyer understood the nature of what he was doing.
Noting the deceased allowed those around him to have a voice in his estate planning deliberations “to an unusual degree”, the court found an amendment to an earlier will in 2014 came after Mr Llewellyn exercised undue influence.
But Justice Lindsay on Monday determined Mr Rofe had capacity when executing his final will in December 2014.
Immediately after Mr Rofe’s former long-time partner and later full-time carer, Mr Llewellyn was the largest beneficiary – given a tenth of the residual estate, cash and a $1.35 million unit in Surfers Paradise’s Q1 tower.
The enforceability or otherwise of debts by Mr Llewellyn will be decided at a later date.