The artist and his fight to contest a will: A portrait of the artist and his fight to contest a will

Date: Dec 17, 2019

In late September 2019, a NSW judge ruled in favor of renowned Australian artist John Olsen over a $2.2 million legal action against his stepdaughter. Olsen alleged that his stepdaughter, Karen Menthink, undertook unconscionable procurement of monies of the estate of Katherine Olsen. Katharine was John’s late wife and Karen’s late mother.

John and Katherine had been married for 27 years when Katharine passed away in December 2016 after a bout with cancer.

The will

The Honourable Justice John Sackar presided over the Supreme Court hearing at Moss Vale in the New South Wales Southern Highlands region, south of Sydney. During the hearing, the court learned that in 2016, two tumours in Katharine’s brain dramatically impacted her personality, making her confused, paranoid, and uncharacteristically aggressive. While doctors were able to remove the tumours in June of that year, Katharine ultimately learned her condition was terminal by October 5, 2016.

On October 10, less than a week after the terminal diagnosis to Katharine, Karen took her mother to a new law firm to draft a new Will. The language of the new Will more than doubled Karen’s inheritance, which went from $2 million up to an estimated $5.3 million. The following day, Katharine withdrew nearly $2.2 million from her bank account that she shared with John.

Olsen alleged that the money transfer slip did not appear to be in Katherine’s handwriting, and where she did sign her signature, it was shaky.

On the stand, Olsen denied knowing Katharine had given any money to Karen, or that she had changed her will following her terminal diagnosis. He further stated that his late wife suffered from significant cognitive impairment in the final months before she passed.

Undue influence or unconscionability

Justice Sacker ruled in favor of Olsen’s claim that Karen leveraged “undue influence or unconscionability” over her mother to obtain the money.

“[Mentink], knowing of her mother’s illness, anxiety, change in behaviour, change in mood either was actively involved in or stood by and did nothing as she accepted an extraordinarily large gift,” Justice John Sackar said, according to the Guardian. “It was an act of self-indulgence, somewhat callous and extraordinarily selfish on the part of the defendant.”

While most estates aren’t as famous as one that extends to one of Australia’s greatest living artists, families and estates of all sizes still need solid legal representation when contesting a Will. If you’re in a position where you have to contest a Will, reach out to Gerard Malouf and Partners today.

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.