Picture: Christian Teese, Rigby Cooke Lawyers Special Counsel, Litigation for Trusts and Estates.
Published in The Victorian Probian August-September 2022 page 34.
We sat down with Christian Teese, Rigby Cooke Lawyers Special Counsel, Litigation for Trusts and Estates, and the Lort Smith Animal Hospital’s man of choice in the courtroom.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Well, it starts with a noisy wake-up by my two young children and the chaos begins! After the morning routine, it’s straight into the office or, if I’m lucky, the home office.
In Wills and Estates, there is no such thing as a boring day. Uncovering fraud, pursuing or defending attacks on estate funds, even disputes over ashes. It’s all in a day’s work.
Why do you do, what you do?
There’s no shortage of people who try to extract their pound of flesh from an Estate. As Special Counsel, my job is to lead the legal effort to protect and preserve what is important to the Will-maker and an affected beneficiary, to make sure that legal obligations are carried out and a just outcome is achieved. It can be a tough road, and it’s something I take very seriously.
What do you see happen regularly?
Challenges to Wills by people dissatisfied with their bequest are the most common. Sometimes it’s justified, other times a baseless opportunistic attack. The manipulation of elderly people into making or changing a Will is another very serious issue that seems to be uncovered more and more. Now, and especially after lockdown, there is more support available to Will-makers, but the legal industry struggles to respond to the many instances of elder abuse in hindsight rather than in a preventative way.
Who are the main perpetrators when it comes to Elder Abuse?
Sadly, it’s almost always someone in a position of trust – Which is not limited to family. It could be an attorney or support person who might help with the shopping, and then help themselves to thousands of dollars in cash every year.
Attacks on estates sometimes don’t stop even once lawyers become involved. You would not believe the attempts made on people’s bequests by professionals who are held to a high standard of accountability. I had a case where a solicitor attempted to charge fees of over a hundred thousand dollars for things like attending a wake or mowing a lawn. Were it not for a proactive approach by the beneficiaries, this money could have been lost.
What actions do you take when this happens?
It is important to strike a balance when approaching disputes so that you are vigilant and assertive enough to prevent or defend an Estate from attacks, but do not come across as antagonistic. When cases like these happen and someone is taking liberties when they shouldn’t, that’s when litigation is needed. But regardless, the focus is on ensuring a just result that respects the deceased’s wishes and recognises the rights of the beneficiaries.
Why Lort Smith?
Not for profits are the first in the firing line when it comes to Will disputes. Because they are so grateful for the gifts, they often don’t ask the necessary questions or fight for their rights when challenged. Lort Smith works incredibly hard to appeal to donors and apply bequests to a noble cause that greatly benefits the community. Bequests and donations are critical for their ability to do so consistently. It’s a great privilege to work for an organisation that fiercely dedicates itself to delivering a service to the community’s vulnerable members and is diligent in protecting bequests from attack.
Too often the first anyone hears about a bequest is after a supporter has passed. But by telling Lort Smith, you can become a part of their ‘Lyle Society’. This means they can recognise your generosity, invite you to events and keep you updated. The easiest way to let them know is by email at email@example.com