Bruce Kerr. File photo.
Bruce Kerr. File photo. Chris Ison ROK280213ccomputer2

Businessman's family feud over deathbed 'Will'

IN THE hours before his elderly mother's death, Rockhampton businessman Bruce Kerr was the only witness to a document signing over half the "substantial" estate to his girlfriend.

Just days later Mr Kerr removed $90,000 from his mother's bank accounts, later claiming it was to pay the debts of his IT company, Kerr Solutions.

The document was contested by Mr Kerr's sister, Michelle Kerr, who was, in the words of Justice Duncan McMeekin, well within her rights to question the "highly suspicious" circumstances of the new "will" and the "dubious transactions" made after their mother's death.

In a Supreme Court judgement delivered on December 20, Justice McMeekin ordered Mr Kerr pay all the costs of Ms Kerr and second defendant Vanesa Paviour, Mr Kerr's girlfriend at the time of his mother's death and the main beneficiary of the new will.

Mr Kerr and his sister were the only children of June Margaret Kerr and named as the reserve executors in a will dated October 31, 1997.

After their father died, the siblings became their mother's executors.

Four months after Mrs Kerr's death in April 2017, and after meetings between the siblings and their solicitors where they were set to deal with the 1997 will, Mr Kerr's solicitors sent a letter announcing he had "produced" a new document which would supersede the 1997 will.

In the letter, the solicitors write that Mr Kerr told them he and his girlfriend, Ms Paviour, visited Mrs Kerr at her home on Friday, April 14.

They said she appeared in good health, but the next day Mrs Kerr called her son and told him she had not slept well and was "worried about tying up her financial affairs".

After discussions at her house, Mr Kerr prepared the document which was signed by Mrs Kerr.

Justice McMeekin notes that is the only explanation Mr Kerr has ever offered for the incident.

Mr Kerr has also never explained why he hid the document until August 15.

After the new document was revealed, Ms Kerr's solicitors requested Mr Kerr renounce his executorship.

He had no option but to comply given he had also stated an intention to sue for better provision from the estate.

Ms Kerr's solicitors assumed Mr Kerr had taken the $90,000 missing from their mother's accounts and requested it be returned.

Mr Kerr defended his actions, saying the money was deposited by him in the first place.

However, Justice McMeekin noted Mr Kerr had no authority to remove the money, with his power of attorney ending upon his mother's death.

Justice McMeekin said Mr Kerr "had obtained his mother's signature on a document in circumstances that were highly suspicious", took $90,000 from the estate bank account, and threatened his sister would get nothing if he sued the estate.

In those circumstances Justice McMeekin concluded that Ms Kerr had "behaved perfectly properly" as an executor.

In October 2017, Mr Kerr's solicitors advised he would not pursue the 2017 will as the new will suggested there was nothing untoward about the $90,000 transfer and said there was no need for him to step aside as executor.

Their explanation was the funds were needed immediately for company debts.

Mrs Kerr was the owner of the only two shares in Kerr Solutions Pty Ltd and was entitled to the company's profits.

Justice McMeekin said on her death those shares were the responsibility of the executors, so Ms Kerr should have been involved in any dealings with them.

"If the monies were needed urgently to pay the debts of the company, why is it that they were transferred into the deceased's personal account only two weeks before?" Justice McMeekin wrote in his judgement.

"Were the payments made because the monies were in truth the income from a business owned by the deceased and so rightly hers?

"Or were the monies being hidden away from the company's creditors?"

Justice McMeekin cited a demand against the company claiming over $740,000 was owed in tax.

Mr Kerr's solicitors also claimed he had loaned his parents "substantial amounts" over the years and that some of the debt had accrued while his parents were the company directors and issues of insolvent trading "may be raised".

Mr Kerr also claimed eight vehicles, four boats and a jet ski were his property, despite them being gifted to Ms Paviour in the 2017 document.

The last claim related to Kerr Solutions, which Mr Kerr said his parents were only shareholders because he was an undischarged bankrupt at the time it was formed.

"These various explanations were supposed to ease the mind of (Ms Kerr) and make it clear to her that (Mr Kerr) should continue as executor and that she should work amicably with him," Justice McMeekin said.

But, he said, the determination of these various things was not at issue.

The issue of this judgement was whether Ms Kerr could continue as executor or be replaced with an independent person.

"In my view, (Mr Kerr's) position is indefensible," Justice McMeekin said.

"He created a great deal of mischief. He has not acted openly and honestly with the plaintiff.

"She has acted entirely appropriately towards him."

The judgement also considered whether Ms Kerr should pay Ms Paviour's costs, something Justice McMeekin rejected.

He questioned why she would continue to file in defence in the claim, even though Mr Kerr had indicated prior to the court proceedings he would not pursue the 2017 document as a valid will.

Justice McMeekin decided Ms Paviour would not have been involved were it not for Mr Kerr, who was ordered to pay all relevant costs.

The Public Trustee of Queensland was appointed to execute the 1997 will.


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