The dispute over the will of Australian surf photographer Martin Tullemans is settled

The sister of late Australian surf photographer Martin Tullemans has lost her bid for his fortune, ending a years-long legal battle that centered on a will that was marked ‘powderkeg’ – and referred to a of its beneficiaries as ” a ** ehole”.

Tullemans, whose surfing images appeared in magazines in Australia and the United States for more than four decades, died in December 2020, setting off a dramatic legal saga.

His sister, Maria Bernadina Shaw, applied to the Supreme Court in Brisbane for probate based on an alleged 2019 will she found in an envelope marked “powderkeg” while cleaning Tullemans’ cabin in 2020 when he was at hospital

The will left most of the Tullemans’ estate to Ms Shaw, which she said included about $380,000 in cash and $246,000 in interest in the estate of her late father, Petrus.

But Tullemans’ daughter-in-law, Tamar Tane, challenged the will’s validity and instead applied for probate of a 2013 will that bequeathed all of his property to Ms Tane and her three siblings.

The validity of the 2013 will when it was made was not disputed. The court only had to decide whether it was superseded by the 2019 will.

Furious letter locked in the safe

Ms Shaw claimed she found the 2019 will, along with an angry letter, locked in a safe and wrapped in an envelope marked ‘Powderkeg’.

Made in a Make Your Own Will package, it was written almost entirely by Ms Shaw’s son David and signed by his late father Petrus and one of Tullemans’ neighbours.

“This should be read only if the will is contested,” a letter with him said.

“I’ve written it because it’s the right thing to do, it’s entirely of my own volition, I’m good (I drive to Brisbane, sell photos/slides etc, plan my calendar etc) [sic] My father’s money may be part of this will, so it’s important that I make my intentions clear.”

He painted a glowing picture of Mrs Shaw and a rather dull picture of her “a**ehole” brother Frank.

“Frank has a history of scheming and scheming. He extorts every penny he can out of situations,” he said. “$50,000 is way more than he ever deserves, as he doesn’t need it at all; and he’s an ‘un**ehole.’

“Mary, my sister, is a nurse and supported my father in his home… Mary deserves help and has two children who would benefit greatly.

“Certainly [sic] I don’t want 1 cent to go to court. Please pay attention!”

Ms Shaw’s son claimed he wrote the will on instructions from Tullemans, who told him to keep it secret, including from Ms Shaw herself, until after her death.

The 2013 will, however, was simpler.

He named Tullemans’ daughter-in-law, Mrs. Tane, as executors and the entire estate went to her and her three brothers in equal shares.

“An atmosphere of suspicion”

In a decision handed down on Friday, Judge David Jackson said there were numerous circumstances surrounding the 2019 will that were suspicious.

These include the fact that it was discovered by Mrs Shaw, who was also the main beneficiary, and was written almost entirely by her son.

It was a substantial departure from the 2013 will, and Tullemans was apparently not aware of it in a 2020 meeting with his lawyer, and there was no evidence that he discussed it with anyone after it was made.

Jackson said there were also important unanswered questions about the signatures and initials in the 2019 will.

Interestingly, the neighbor whose signature appears on the will said she was not present when it was drawn up, and signed without reading it.

He did not realize he had signed a will, the court heard. He also denied signing the letter of intent.

“These circumstances together invoke an atmosphere of well-founded suspicion, that Mary [Maria Shaw] has not been satisfactorily disposed of,” Justice Jackson said.

He ruled in favor of the 2013 will.

Originally published as Legal battle over Aussie surfing legend’s estate finally settled

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