Today the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal brought by the executors and trustees of a deceased estate against a decision of the County Court that, on the basis of proprietary estoppel, property was held by the deceased, Colin Turner, on a constructive trust for Mr and Mrs Graham and that the Grahams were not statute barred from bringing a claim in relation to that property.

Mr Turner suggested to the Grahams that if they moved into a property owned by him, next to the home occupied by himself and his wife, they could live there rent-free in exchange for looking after him and Mrs Turner, who were both in poor health. He also represented that on his death, he would leave the property to the Grahams. The Grahams moved into the neighbouring property in 1974 and insisted on paying an amount of rent towards the municipal rates and the cost of routine maintenance. The Grahams looked after the Turners until the death of Mrs Turner in 1980, and the death of Mr Turner in 1997. 

The Grahams relied on Mr Turner’s representation to their detriment. The Grahams became carers for the Turners. This involved daily checking on the Turners, cooking meals, doing household chores, and purchasing their medication. When Mrs Turner died Mrs Graham assisted in arranging the funeral and the wake was held at the Grahams’.  After Mrs Turner’s death Mr Graham organised Mr Turner’s breakfast every day and Mrs Graham cooked Mr Turner’s other daily meals. The Grahams took Mr Turner on holiday with them to their relatives on three occasions. Mr Graham took Mr Turner to various hospital admissions and visited him there each night. As Mr Turner’s health declined Mr Graham had to shower and dress him each morning and provide personal care. The Grahams changed and washed Mr Turner’s bed sheets. On the assurance the property would be theirs, the Grahams also made improvements to the property over 42 years at their own expense.

In his Will Mr Turner left the Grahams only a life interest in the property. The Court of Appeal accepted that this was unconscionable. The Court held that Mr Turner held the property on constructive trust for the Grahams from the time when the detrimental reliance rendered it unconscionable for him to depart from the representation he had made. It held that the proceeding was one for the recovery of trust property and no limitation period was applicable.

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NOTE:  This summary is necessarily incomplete.  It is not intended as a substitute for the Court’s reasons or to be used in any later consideration of the Court’s reasons.  The only authoritative pronouncement of the Court’s reasons and conclusions is that contained in the published reasons for judgment.

Read the Court's full judgment on AustLII (External link)

Author
Supreme Court of Victoria
Publisher
Supreme Court of Victoria
Date of Publication

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