$17m Lotto winner's niece loses battle over beach house

The Whangamata property at the centre of the dispute. Photo: Google
The Whangamata property at the centre of the dispute. Photo: Google
A woman whose millionaire uncle died with a secret Lotto fortune has lost her fight for a beach house she believed he bought for her.

David Wayde Carson died in 2015 with more than $17 million to his name thanks to a 2009 Lotto win. He apparently only told one person - his stepson - about the windfall.

His four estranged children, all in Australia, did not learn of his death for more than two years. They were shocked to hear of the Lotto fortune and - although they were not explicitly provided for in the will - were eventually awarded $1.25 million each in December last year.

But a niece to whom Carson had grown close has also fought for her share of the fortune, specifically a beach house which she believed her uncle had bought in her name.

The woman had become close to Carson as a teen after he married her aunt, his second wife. She only learned after his death that he had four children.

After her own marriage broke down in her 40s the pair became closer, frequently talking on the phone, and Carson supported her emotionally and financially including buying her a car, paying her rent and almost $100,000 in legal fees.

The woman and her husband had each owned part of a beach house in Whangamatā, and when they split she and her family continued to use the property.

The two-bedroom, 108m2 home sits on more than 1000m2 of land and adjoins a reserve. It's about 200m from the Otahu River estuary, as the crow flies, and a five minute drive from a white-sand beach. Its current rateable value is $640,000, according to QV.co.nz.

When her ex-husband changed the locks and tried to sell the property in 2009, Carson objected and agreed to buy the property himself. Despite it being bought in his name, the woman claimed her uncle had promised the property would be hers forever, with no strings attached.

After Carson's death the woman wrote to the executors of the will, saying the property was "very special to me". Her uncle had always said the property was for her and her children and she and her father were the only people with keys to the house, she wrote.

Her uncle had never used or even visited the property and did not have a key, she later told the court in an affidavit.

But she said it had been decided, on legal advice, it was less complicated for him to buy the property in his own name. He bought it for $340,000 - a fair market price at the time.

She was surprised to learn he had never transferred the property into her name or made provision to do so after his death.

Carson's money was moved into a family trust after his death, with much of it meant to benefit cattle research and development through Lincoln University.

His niece was not left penniless - in his 2014 will her uncle bequeathed her $500,000, and made her a beneficiary of the trust which would see her receive at least $25,000 each year.

Her claim on the property was heard in March in the High Court in Nelson. The executors of Carson's will opposed her claim, arguing her uncle intended to retain ownership himself. They instead intended to sell the property.

In her recently published decision, Justice Thomas said there had been no other witnesses to the conversations between the woman and Carson about the property being hers forever.

The judge agreed with the executors that Carson had not gifted his niece the property nor intended it to be hers. He had taken no steps to move the property into her name.

She and her family had frequently visited the Whangamatā home and maintained the property, mowing the lawns and pruning trees.

However the judge said this maintenance work was consistent with someone who had free use of a property, rather than owning it.

She had not made improvements to the house and Carson had continued to pay the rates, although she paid the power bills.

Carson also did not pay insurance on the property because he did not believe in the concept - which suggested he saw it as his property to do with as he wished, the judge said.

The judge noted Carson had not "overlooked" his niece in making his will - he had specifically addressed their relationship and made provision for her.

The woman's claim for the property was dismissed.


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