Childcare worker wins fight over grandmother’s $1m will

A Queensland childcare worker has successfully challenged several wills which split her grandmother’s $1 million estate between a local church and a charity, having previously promised it all to her grandchildren.

Helene Craig-Bridges told The Australian she was relieved by the decision and she was looking forward to spending time at a holiday home in Yamba, on the New South Wales north coast, which was part of her grandmother’s estate.

‘All is know is that we won,’ Ms Craig-Bridges told the newspaper. ‘All I remember is my lawyer called and asked: “How are you today?” I said, “I’m not sure, you tell me”, and he said, “You’re good”.’ 

Helene Craig-Bridges convinced a court her grandmother’s last three wills were inadmissible

Helene said the relationship with her  grandmother was more like that of mother and daughter

Helene said the relationship with her grandmother was more like that of mother and daughter

A tribute Helene Craig-Bridges posted to her grandmother Ella Bush after her death in 2015

Ella Minnie Lillian Bush, who died aged 90 in January 2015, made five wills between 1990 and 2013, the third of which named her brother Cecil as executor, even though he had been dead nine years.

Ms Craig-Bridges, one of Mrs Bush’s five granddaughters, argued her grandmother was not mentally fit to make the last three wills, which split her fortune between the Cancer Council and Wee Waa Anglican Church, in northern NSW.

Ms Craig-Bridges, who described her relationship with Mrs Bush as having been more like mother and daughter, challenged a NSW Supreme Court decision which upheld the validity of those three wills.

Mrs Bush’s estate included her home at Wee Waa and the property at Yamba, as well as about $700,000 in cash deposits, most of which came from an early 1990s Lotto win.

She and her husband Samuel had two sons, one of whom died in 1970. The other son Ronny had five daughters including Ms Helene Craig-Bridges.

Mrs Bush’s first will, made in March 1990, named her husband as sole beneficiary. If Samuel and Ronny did not survive her, the estate was to be split equally between Ronny’s five daughters.

Samuel Bush died in February 1995 and Ronny died in April 2011. Two months later Mrs Bush made another will, splitting her estate equally among her five granddaughters.

Mrs Bush made three more wills, in November 2011, November 2012 and February 2013. All these wills divide her assets 50/50 between the Cancer Council and Wee Waa Anglican Church. 

Childcare manager Helene Craig-Bridges successfully challenged her grandmother's will

Childcare manager Helene Craig-Bridges successfully challenged her grandmother’s will

Ella Bush left half her $1 million estate to the Cancer Council and half to her local church

It was those three wills Ms Craig-Bridges successfully disputed.  

The only difference between those wills was the identity of the executor. The will of November 2011 appointed Mrs Bush’s brother Cecil as executor. 

Cecil had died in 2002. Mrs Bush organised and attended his funeral. 

The November 2012 will named Mrs Bush’s brother Ted as executor. Ted died a month later. The last will appointed the NSW Trustee and Guardian to handle Mrs Bush’s estate.

Mrs Craig-Bridges contended her grandmother lacked the legal and mental ability to make the last three wills. She wanted Mrs Bush’s estate to be split equally among the five grandchildren.

NSW Supreme Court judge James Stevenson decided in November last year Mrs Bush did have the capacity to write each of the last three wills but that Ms Craig-Bridges was entitled to a fifth of the estate. 

‘I see no reason to conclude that the bequest to the two charities was not Mrs Bush’s own idea,’ Justice Stevenson found. 

Ella Bush left half her $1m estate to her local Wee Waa Anglican Church in northern NSW

A Facebook tribute Helene Craig-Bridges posted after her grandmother Ella Bush’s 2015 death

‘On the limited evidence before me, I am not able to come to any conclusion as to why Mrs Bush had this change of heart.’

‘The decision does seem a harsh one, from Helene’s point of view. Helene remained in close and regular contact with Mrs Bush throughout her life.’   

Ms Craig-Bridges said that was not enough and appealed against Justice Stevenson’s decision in the NSW Court of Appeal, which found in her favour.

‘It is no small thing to conclude that Ella lacked testamentary capacity to make her wills in November 2011, November 2012 and February 2013,’ the court ruled.

‘But this court must conduct a real review of the entirety of the evidence, in light of which we have concluded that the primary judge appears not to have had regard to significant portions of Helen’s unchallenged evidence of Ella’s declining capacity.’

Associate professor Tuly Rosenfeld, a consultant geriatrician, believed as of November 2011 Mrs Bush ‘suffered from a dementing illness the nature of which was likely to have been Alzheimer’s disease and/or vascular dementia.’