A rich but lonely old lady has left her entire estate, worth $12.5 million to her neighbour, who bought her bread and milk and helped her manage her daily chores.
Betty Harris, who died aged 95 in 2009, chose to leave her estate to her neighbour in the millionaires enclave of Point Piper in Sydney after she felt her niece was trying to force her into a nursing home.
When Mrs Harris died, leaving her estate to neighbour Beatrice Gray, a bitterly fought legal battle ensued with Mrs Harris’s niece in the Supreme Court.
Speaking from her Point Piper home this morning Mrs Gray told The Telegraph “I’m extremely grateful to Betty Harris”.
She declined to comment further.
Property records show Mrs Harris’ four-bedroom and six-garage home has been rented out since she died in 2009. Belle Property Double Bay is leasing the home for $2800 a week.
“The Grays would be surprised, (while) my family are waiting for me to die,” Mrs Harris said.
“I am determined that my relatives after what they have put me through will not get one cent.”
The court heard Mrs Harris lived alone, and had no close friends after her husband died in 1991. She was not close to any of her relatives and her only interest was horse racing.
In his ruling today, Justice Richard White found that Mrs Gray – a wealthy Sydney University academic and barrister – was entitled to the estate because Mrs Harris’ will, written in April 2005 was valid.
Justice White rejected arguments by Mrs Harris’s niece Coralie Hart that the will was invalid because Mrs Harris was deluded when she began thinking her greedy niece was trying to gain control of her fortune.
Mrs Harris had no children and was largely estranged from her nieces and nephews, telling hospital staff in 2005 that she had not spoken to them for 13 years, a court heard..
In 2005, shortly after she changed the will, Mrs Harris complained of her niece and nephews “they all want their bit of money”. The court heard she complained her nephews were ” a pretty pathetic lot” and called another niece, Anne Nickolls a “b***h”.
Mrs Nickolls said that Mrs Harris had always “sworn like a trooper”.
Justice White found that there was “no doubt” that Mrs Harris had “some degree of cognitive impairment” but she was still capable of signing a will.
An earlier will – written in 1996 – had left the entire estate to Mrs Hart, but Mrs Harris revoked it after she became “angry” with Mrs Hart who wanted to put her in a nursing home and appoint a legal guardian to take control of her finances, a court heard.
Mrs Hart applied for control over Mrs Harris’s affairs when Mrs Harris became ill in 2005. Justice White found Mrs Hart applied for control in order to “protect her inheritance”.
“She was suspicious that Mr and Mrs Gray would attempt to take control of Mrs Harris’ finances,” Justice White found.
During a stay in hospital, a geriatric doctor had diagnosed Mrs Harris as suffering from “moderately severe dementia” .
The court heard that Mrs Harris was “humiliated” at losing her independence and having to ask for money from a financial manager, appointed by the Guardianship Tribunal in 2005.
During this time Mrs Harris borrowed money from Mrs Gray and her then husband Robert.
The Gray’s lived next door to Mrs Harris in Wyuna Road, Point Piper for 33 years, until she died on September 17, 2009 aged 95, a court heard..
The Grays helped Mrs Harris pay her bills, organise her car registration and the reinvestment of her money Mrs Gray’s late husband also helped Mrs Harris to replace light bulbs and wheel out her recycling bin.
The couple also checked on Mrs Harris’s house to make sure she had not been robbed, and they kept a spare key for Mrs Harris.
Mrs Harris was the widow of Keith Harris, a former vice chair of the Sydney Turf Club and a horse breeder who was jailed in 1987 for a conspiracy to bribe the Corrective Services Minister, Rex “Buckets” Jackson, over a prisoners’ early release, a court heard.
Keith Harris made his fortune making radios and televisions.