Tuesday 20 February 2018

Man challenging High Court ruling he repay €900,000 aunt gifted to him

Tim Healy

A NEPHEW is challenging a High Court ruling that he repay €900,000 which he says his 88-year-old aunt gifted to him from the €2.8m sale of her family home in Dublin.

He must also move out of another house she bought and lived in with him from the sale proceeds until she went into a nursing home suffering from dementia.

A judge made the orders after finding he had used undue influence at the time on his aunt, who had in all probability early stage mild dementia, to get the money which he used to invest in an agricultural machinery business and buy property in Poland. 

The court heard the largest single withdrawal, for €500,000, from her bank account into his, occurred just before he learned that efforts were being made to have her declared a ward of court to protect her interests.

The aunt, a widow with no children, was declared a ward in January 2010 and a couple of months later was admitted to the nursing home where she still lives.

Mr Justice Kevin Feeney also found the nephew put pressure on her to sell her Rathgar home using a forged Department of Social and Family Affairs-headed letter threatening her that the State would take possession of the house and sell it.

The nephew, who cannot be identified because it would also identify the aunt, denies the claims and says she had full capacity when she gave him the money.  Most of it was withdrawn over a year-long period usually  by him bringing blank withdrawal slips which had been signed by her to the bank, the court heard.

He has appealed Mr Justice Feeney’s findings and the Supreme Court is to give its decision by the end of this month.

He told the appeal  his aunt had promised him he could keep “anything over the €1m” from the sale of her home in Dublin.

Legal action against him was brought by a committee appointed to act on her behalf as a ward of court following concerns expressed by other relatives.

He brought a counter-claim including seeking damages for spending ten days in prison for contempt of court for failing to explain adequately where the money had gone.

Mr Justice Feeney, in his judgment, said the aunt had been living alone in Rathgar where the nephew  had stayed with her and her husband when he was a child and he also visited her regularly as a adult. 

In 2006, when neighbours in Rathgar became concerned about her ability to cope she was hospitalised. She was discharged into the care of her nephew who she lived with in Wexford from April 2006 until she went into the nursing home.

She lived for about a year with the nephew and his partner, though moved out into her parents family home in Wexford for a time following a dispute. 

A social worker noted that as early as April 2006, the nephew was trying to persuade her to sell her home in Rathgar.

The judge said it was a relative of the nephew who discovered the forged Department of Social and Family Affairs letter which he was satisfied the nephew had concocted. His claim that his aunt had dictated the letter and he just typed it out lacked credibility, the judge said.

In September 2007, the Rathgar house was sold for €2.8m and in April 2008, she bought another house in Wexford for €744,000 which she moved into with the nephew, his daughter, her boyfriend and a Polish woman.  

The nephew’s partner did not move into the new house at that time.

The balance from the Rathgar sale, around €1.9m, was put into a deposit account and between May 2008 and April 2009, around €900,000 was withdrawn on eight occasions by the nephew usually using blank withdrawal slips pre-signed by his aunt.

Mr Justice Feeney said while it had been established €322,000 was invested into the agricultural machinery business, there were still a significant gap in relation to what happened to other withdrawals. He ordered the nephew to provide a full account of his interest in two apartments in Poland, one of which he claimed had been bought by him for the Polish woman who had moved into the new house in Wexford at the request of his aunt.

The nephew had tried to mislead the court in relation to these properties and on a number of other matters, the judge found.

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