Business reporter for the NZ Herald

Family fight over $20 million Waiheke Island farm

Family trade accusations as widow seeks to dissolve trust that owns her farm.
The battle, which centres on a 300ha coastal property, has been described as a sad affair by one of the lawyers involved. Photo / Getty Images
The battle, which centres on a 300ha coastal property, has been described as a sad affair by one of the lawyers involved. Photo / Getty Images

A family is fighting over a $20 million Waiheke Island farm, with its elderly matriarch alleging she was unduly influenced when setting up the trust that now owns the property.

The battle, which centres on a 300ha coastal property, has been described as a sad affair by one of the lawyers involved.

Diana Perkins Goldman bought the property with her now-deceased husband, Philip, in the 1970s.

It is understood the 88-year-old widow still lives on the farm, which has a private beach on the northern side of the Hauraki Gulf island.

Mr and Mrs Goldman had no children but many nieces and nephews on both sides of their marriage.

Mrs Goldman, until February 2013, held the shares of the company which owns the multi-million dollar property.

The octogenarian then gifted the shares to a family trust she had set up the previous September, when she also signed a new will.

Those responsible for managing the trust included her niece Christine Perkins and a trustee company.

But Mrs Goldman has filed a High Court lawsuit against Ms Perkins, her great-nephew Thomas Lane and the trustee company.

She alleges Ms Perkins and Mr Lane had influence over her when she set up the trust, signed her new will and made the share transactions.

Mrs Goldman, in her court action, wants the trust dissolved.

Ms Perkins and Mr Lane deny the allegations. They argue Mrs Goldman is mentally incapacitated and, in turn, has come under the influence of those who will benefit from the trust being dissolved.

They allege that such people include Robert Goldman - a nephew on Philip's side of the family - and the widow's live-in housekeeper.

The 300ha property lies on the northern side of Waiheke Island.
The 300ha property lies on the northern side of Waiheke Island.

A trial date for the case has not been set.

Less than a month after Mrs Goldman launched the court action, she appointed a litigation guardian because she has mild dementia and short-term memory trouble.

At the time, Mrs Goldman said she was happy for her long-term lawyer, Lewis Grant, to be this guardian and believed he would do the right thing to regain control of her assets.

But Mr Lane last month attempted to remove Mr Grant from that position, arguing his appointment was incorrectly made.

He also argued that Mr Grant had conflicting interests because his law firm was involved in the case and therefore had a financial interest in it continuing as long as possible.

Justice Kit Toogood rejected that point and said there was no evidence that Mr Grant was acting improperly or not in Mrs Goldman's interests.

Mr Lane also claimed Mr Grant was conflicted because he represents the farm's neighbours and that Mrs Goldman apparently wanted the property sold to them.

Justice Toogood said this was entirely speculative and irrelevant.

"Mr Lane carried the onus of demonstrating that it is in Mrs Goldman's interests that the litigation guardian should be removed. The grounds advanced in this case fall well short of the threshold of proof," the judge said when dismissing the bid.

Both Mr Lane's and Ms Perkins' lawyers said their clients strongly denied the allegations but would not be commenting further.

"It's a sad matter, it's a family matter and she won't be making any other comment and neither will I," said Ms Perkins' lawyer, Kate Davenport QC.

Lawyers for Robert and Diane Goldman said they were not in a position to make any comment.

- NZ Herald

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