Veronica Hurren died in March 2009 survived by children John, Peter and Lynne.

Her last will appointed Toby Jacobs as executor, made some minor gifts and then left the rest and residue of the estate equally between the three adult offspring.

iStock 1395675260Jacobs did nothing to administer the estate for many years.  John applied to the Supreme Court of Queensland and in September 2018 obtained orders from Justice Martin Burns removing him as executor.

The judge appointed an independent administrator – solicitor John Fradgley – to administer the estate given what he took to be heightened conflict among the beneficiaries.

The estate consisted of 2 properties at Biggera Waters, in which daughter Lynne and Jacobs occupied from time to time without the estate’s consent.

Fradgley asked them to vacate and when they refused, he started actions in the Magistrates Court and in QCAT eventually selling the properties after achieving vacant possession in October 2019, for a net sum of almost $1.5 mil.

A valuer assessed the rent lost to the estate from the unauthorized occupation of the properties by Lynne and Jacobs over 10 years from 2009 at $266,000.

The administrator decided not to pursue Jacobs as he appeared to have no assets but considered recovering the forgone rent from Lynne by way of an adjustment to her estate share.

Having eventually decided to pursue neither of them, Fradgley sought and obtained advice in August 2021 from the Supreme Court confirming the validity of that approach from Justice Peter Applegarth.

Peter nevertheless pressed the administrator to sue Lynne for the foregone rent or a share of it.

He wanted Fradgley to recover the lost rent, Fradgley did not want to waste time and legal costs on likely futile legal proceedings and Lynne wanted to avoid any payment.

This issue went back and forth between the three protagonists until late 2022.

The dispute was nearly resolved with an in-principle agreement that Lynne would pay half the lost rent, but she changed her mind and refused to formalise that arrangement.

Fradgley – who was ‘between a rock and a hard place’ in estate administration land – faced mounting criticism from Peter for sitting on his hands.

The administrator decided to get advice and directions from the Supreme Court for a second time.

He applied to the court, outlining the background and circumstances and asking for an order that would permit him to deduct $133,000 – half the sum in dispute – from Lynne’s estate share in line with the earlier proposal.

Due to be heard in early-2023 but delayed by Lynne until December 2023, the matter came before Justice Martin Burns who approved administrator Fradgley’s request.

The case demonstrates the caution that is called for in estate administration. It also illustrates the importance of choosing a competent executor to avoid the huge expense by which an estate can be burdened by the appointment of an independent administrator.

The legal costs incurred in the nearly 15 years from Veronica’s death are likely to be enormous.

Re Estate of Hurren [2023] QSC 287 Burns J 23 December 2023