Colleen McCullough a writer of considerable fame, having written, amongst other books, The Thorn Birds died on 29 January 2015 at the age of 77 on Norfolk Island where she had lived for many years.
Colleen moved to Norfolk Island in 1983 following the success of The Thorn Birds, which has sold more than 33 million copies worldwide since it was published in 1977. It was her second novel and remains the biggest-selling book in Australian publishing history.
In The Thorn Birds the family matriarch Mary Carson, changes her will leaving her brother Paddy nothing, and instead naming the parish priest Ralph de Bricassart executor and leaving the Catholic Church the main beneficiary .
Colleen’s only living relative was her husband Ric whom she had married in 1984. There were no children of the marriage but Ric had two children from a previous marriage.
Selwa Anthony, a long-time friend of Colleen and one of two named executors in a Will Colleen executed on 12 July 2014, the other named executor of that will, renounced probate. In this Will she bequeathed her entire estate to the University of Oklahoma Foundation Inc. Colleen had received an honorary doctorate from the University of Oklahoma and had lectured there. Selwa claimed that Coleen changed her will after finding Ric had “taken a mistress and spent all the money”.
However, Colleen signed and initialed documents in October 2014, and January 2015, with the intention to revoke the will made in July 2014.
Colleen’s solicitor testified that the October and January documents were
“part of a plan to lead Ric to believe that a valid will had been created in his favour to relieve Colleen of pressure from him”.
However the solicitor admitted, that in January 2015 she handed Ric a document which purported to be Colleen’s will, leaving her entire estate to him.
The Court accepted Colleen’s health was very poor in October 2014, but it was not so poor as to affect her mental capacity or her ability to make a will.
In January 2015, although she was seriously ill, she was able to give her solicitor instructions to prepare a power of attorney, and on 17 January 2015 to shout at her solicitor to give the will to Ric.
The Court rejected Colleen’s solicitor’s evidence that she only did what she did, or wrote what she did, to placate Ric and protect Colleen. Cross-examination established that she did not have instructions from Colleen to pretend anything.
Selwa Anthony, challenged the new wills on the basis that Ric had “unduly influenced” his wife in the months before her death.
Ric told the Supreme Court that while their marriage had problems and with Colleen’s consent he had taken a mistress – he returned to be her carer in her final days. The Court agreed finding that Ric Robinson had not taken advantage of his wife’s poor health.
Further whatever the imperfections in their marriage, the tensions over financial matters, Colleen’s concerns over Ric’s spending over the years, and Ric’s affair, the situation by October 2014, and beyond, had improved from that in June 2014 and was not so acrimonious as to necessarily preclude as a possibility that Colleen would decide to reinstate Ric, her husband of more than 30 years, as the sole beneficiary of her estate.
The Court found that Colleen made a will in July 2014 bequeathing her entire estate to Oklahoma University, as she was fully entitled to do. By October 2014, she had changed her mind and decided to give her estate to Ric, for reasons not shown to be irrational, and more importantly, not as a result of any delusion, mental illness or incompetence again, she was fully entitled to do so.
The Court ordered that each party should bear their own costs.