Business Editor for the NZ Herald

Freemasons fight: Widow wins battle for husband's money

Photo / Michael Craig
Photo / Michael Craig

An 88-year-old widow has won a High Court fight over thousands of dollars which the men running her late husband's trust planned to pay to Freemasons NZ.

Former Union Steamship Company radio officer Rex White met his future wife Beatrice in the 1960s. They moved to Australia, where they married and lived until Rex's death in 2001.

Beatrice still lives across the Tasman.

Rex was a member of the Freemasons, and more than 20 years ago he instructed Auckland lawyer Bruce McNiece to set up a family trust.

At the time, McNiece was also a Freemasons member, but he left the organisation in 1995.

McNiece has since administered the trust. Co-trustee Alexander Davis is still a member of the fraternity.

Beatrice did not know about the trust until after her husband's death, when it held a little over $200,000.

Over the years, McNiece arranged for tax to be paid from the trust's investments and for quarterly distributions into Beatrice's bank account.

In 2014 her lawyer wrote to McNiece indicating she wanted the trust funds paid to her.

McNiece replied that it was Rex's intention that his wife receive income from the trust but not the capital, and that when she died, funds held would go to charity.

McNiece and Davis later applied to the High Court at Auckland for orders that, as trustees, they could pay the funds to Freemasons NZ.

Beatrice opposed the trustees' bid and sought orders that she was entitled to receive all the money in the trust.

While McNiece gave evidence that Rex White had advised both Davis and himself that he wished to benefit the Freemasons and not his widow, Justice Paul Davison said there was no document that recorded that intention. The judge said Beatrice White was entitled to receive all of the trust funds.

"The trustees have been shown to have acted inconsistently and they are unable to demonstrate by reference to either documentation or cogent and reliable evidence, what the objects of the trust that they are trustees of were or are ... I find that the [trust] has failed by reason of uncertainty," Justice Davison said.

"As a consequence, the applicants do not have the responsibility or possess the power as trustees to retain and manage the trust funds."

In the absence of a valid and effective trust, he said, the funds reverted to the estate of Rex White, to which Mrs White was entitled as sole beneficiary, he said.

- NZ Herald

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