The Importance of Making a Will Highlighted – NSW Man Granted Ownership of a Home under a Deceased Estate based on Squatting laws

On 30 October 2018, the Supreme Court of New South Wales granted a Sydney Property Developer, Mr Bill Gertos, ownership of a $1.7 million home in Ashbury, New South Wales, based on NSW squatter laws.

The interesting part is that the home was originally owned by a man named Henry Thompson Downie, who died in 1927 without leaving a Will. At the time of Mr Downie’s death, the Ashbury property was rented out to a tenant, who paid a nominal rent, until the time of her death in 1998.

Mr Gertos stumbled across the property after the death of the long-term tenant and observing that it was uninhabited and delipidated, he decided to take possession of the property and undertake various works and improvements to the property.

Although distant relatives of Mr Downie recently attempted to contest Mr Gertos’ application for legal ownership of the property, the NSW Supreme Court granted ownership to Mr Gertos based on the fact that Mr Gertos had essentially ‘squatted’ at the property for nearly 20 years and, under NSW adverse possession laws, after 12 years of essentially inhabiting a property, that person could claim adverse possession of the property.

If Mr Downie had left a Will which appointed certain people, such as family members, friends or independent trustees, to be the executors and trustees of his estate on his death and, further, he had properly dealt with the issue of what would happen to the property on his death, it is very unlikely that any person, such as Mr Gertos, would have been in a position to just walk by the property and gain ownership!