The story of seven adult children of an Australian dry cleaning tycoon in the midst of a bitter legal battle over their parents’ fortune and estate demonstrates the need for effective estate planning.
Seven adult children of an Aussie dry cleaning tycoon are in the midst of a bitter legal battle over their parents’ fortune and estate. Seven of the eight children of Adelaide dry cleaning millionaire Antoine Nemer are set to battle it out in court after a last-minute will change apparently turned ugly. Mr Nemer, who died at the age of 90 in 2016, left most of his estate to his wife Linda, who died a year later at 91. The couple left behind eight adult children – sons Paul, George, Leslie and Joseph Richard and daughters Sonia, Donia, Pauline and Marie. The couple had already drawn up a will back in 2015, but in May 2017 – just five months before her death – Mrs Nemer added a codicil, an addition or supplement to a will or part of a will that modifies or revokes it, which essentially meant a significant slice of the estate would be passed from three of her sons in favour of her daughters. Son Joseph Richard lives overseas, is not a beneficiary of the will and is not involved in the case. So far, the exact value of the will is not known, although a Supreme Court of South Australia judgment published recently described it as “substantial” and “complex”, and it is believed to involve a multimillion-dollar fortune. According to Mrs Nemer’s will, 25 per cent of the residue of her estate was to go to George and 37.5 per cent each to Paul and Leslie. But a “specific bequest” is made in favour of Sonia, Donia, Pauline and Marie, who stand to get an even share of money from their mother’s accounts after her death – an amount of around $972,000. However, the effect of the codicil was to redirect assets from the residuary estate to the four daughters. “The codicil effects a fundamentally important change in the distribution of the deceased’s estate given the likely magnitude of her interest in the estate of Antoine,” the judgment reads. The dispute also involves the couple’s mansion in Springfield in the South Australian capital as well as interest from a company, the Hilltop Shopping Centre Pty Ltd. WHO WAS ANTOINE NEMER? Antoine Nemer arrived in Australia from Lebanon in the 1940s and went on to open the first Tip Top Dry Cleaners in 1953 in Gray St, Adelaide. At the time, the business was groundbreaking – according to the company website, Mr Nemer “pioneered same-day service when most other dry cleaners had a seven-day turnaround”. It eventually became a hugely successful franchise, and the Nemer family went on to also develop interests in petrol stations. WHERE DID IT GO WRONG? According to wills and estates special counsel Joanne Carusi, from Barry Nilsson Lawyers, sons Paul, George and Leslie are fighting to ensure that their mother’s original will – without the codicil – be upheld, as they would appear to be the main beneficiaries under that document. While not commenting on the merits of the case, Ms Caruso said the four Nemer daughters appeared to want their mother’s codicil to be accepted as a valid addition to the will as it benefited them. It is thought the codicil favours her daughters over her sons through the disposition of properties. She told news.com.au that codicils, which are normally used when making minor changes to an existing will, could be dangerous in estate planning. Ms Carusi said the use of codicils could be problematic, particularly if they become separated from the will, and could often cause confusion and become the subject of disputes between beneficiaries. It is much more efficient, professional and a “safer” option to simply prepare a new will if changes are necessary which is much easier and faster to achieve given today’s technology, Ms Carusi advised. “The conflict may have been avoided or mitigated if the couple sought specialist estate planning advice which may have involved drawing up a mutual will agreement,” Ms Carusi said of the Nemer case. “Mutual will agreements are a form of contract where two testators agree that, after the death of one of them, the survivor will not alter the terms (or particular terms) of his or her will. “On the death of one, the terms of the agreement are irrevocable. Where mutual wills are made, the contract behind them should be reduced to a written contract or deed. “It is a really important planning tool, and it is also important to review your estate plan regularly.” The Nemer family’s will dispute continues.