26/02/2015 - 13:26

Court rules Wright's daughter to get $25m

26/02/2015 - 13:26

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The third daughter of late mining heir Michael Wright has succeeded in her bid to extract much more than she was left from his will, with a judge ruling she should get $25 million.

Michael Wright passed away in 2012.

The third daughter of late mining heir Michael Wright has succeeded in her bid to extract much more than she was left from his will, with a judge ruling she should get $25 million.

Olivia Jacqueline Mead had been left up to $3 million from the estate, estimated at more than $1 billion, but could not touch it until she was aged 30.

The 19 year old challenged the will in the Supreme Court of Western Australia this month, suing executor David Lemon and demanding $20 million worth of cash and luxury items.

She claimed to have been left without adequate funds for her proper maintenance, support, education and advancement in life.

Today, Master Craig Sanderson agreed, saying the magnate did not make adequate provision for his youngest child from his "colossal" estate.

"The deceased had a vast fortune and he was in the fortunate position of being able to provide for all of the parties who had a claim on his bounty," Master Sanderson said.

The structure of the trust meant there was a real prospect she might get nothing, given it was worded "up to" $3 million.

It was also worded in an unwieldy way, putting Ms Mead's fate in the hands of Mr Lemon whom she had never met and had close ties with other family members, which was unreasonable, Master Sanderson said.

The strangest aspect of the trust, he said, was a provision that could operate in an entirely oppressive fashion, potentially excluding her as a beneficiary if she was convicted of a drink driving offence.

"It may even be the case if she was suspected of involvement with someone who used an illicit substance she could be excluded," Master Sanderson said.

Master Sanderson said the most egregious provision was a clause that if the plaintiff converted to Buddhism, or perhaps Islam - or even was associated with someone who practised those faiths - she would be an "excluded person".

Most Australians regarded freedom of religion as a birthright, but Ms Mead would have had to give that up at age 30, which was an extraordinary proposition, he said.

Master Sanderson said the money should be paid to Ms Mead in a lump sum.

The remainder of the residual estate will then pass to Ms Mead's half sisters, Leonie Baldock and Alexandra Burt, who will get about $10 million each minus about $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," Master Sanderson said.

The trial was told that Michael Wright's fourth child, his son Myles, who has no ongoing involvement in the family business, had been awarded $15 million on top of an annual allowance.

Michael Wright was one of three children to the later Peter Wright, who played a major role in opening up the Pilbara iron ore industry in the 1960s in partnership with the late Lang Hancock.

The family fortunes have been underpinned by a lucrative royalties deal negotiated with Hamersely Iron (now Rio Tinto).

Business News reported last year that the ageing magnate had established an unusal governance structure for family company VOC Group, which must have a majority on non-family directors.

VOC is chaired by corporate lawyer Ian Cochrane, and counts Mr Lemon and Voyager Enterprises CFO Shane Wilkinson as independent directors.

The family directors are Mrs Baldock and Mrs Burt.

Mrs Baldock is also a director of Wright Prospecting, which is jointly owned by VOC Group and AMB Holdings - the family company of Michael Wright's sister Angela Bennett.

AMB has also turned to outsiders to help manage the family fortune. Former Macquarie Capital executive Michael Ashforth joined last year as executive chairman.

His co-directors include former Wesfarmers executive and Sirona Capital director David McMahon, who represents AMB on the board of Wright Prospecting.

Meanwhile, the trial heard Ms Mead had lavish tastes.

She sought a diamond-encrusted Ritter Royal Flora Aurum bass guitar worth $250,000 and a $US1.2 million limited edition, crystal-studded Kuhn Bosendorfer grand piano.

Her wish list also included $10,000 a year to spend on fashion accessories, money for the upkeep of four children she plans to have and thousands of dollars a year to care for four pets including an axolotl.

A spokesperson for the defendants provided the following comment after the judgement was released.

“The estate acknowledges the master’s finding and we are considering our position at this time”.

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