A Brisbane law firm has negotiated the end to a dispute which could have seen the end to one of Brisbane’s most iconic nightclubs.“Most disputed wills end up running through the entire estate in legal fees so we were very pleased to be able to present such a significant body of evidence that the opposing side had no choice but to settle their claim and thus see this iconic institution able to keep operating,” – Christopher O’Connor, Partner, O’Connor Ruddy & Garrett solicitors
Former owner of The Mega Beat (more commonly known as The Beat) nightclub, John Hannay, passed away on March 1, 2019. An openly homosexual man, John Hannay didn’t have a long-term significant life partner, nor any children. He did, however, have an extended family member whom he treated as a child and who helped him run the business for many years. This duplicate son had been the major beneficiary of his previous wills for many years. Hannay’s final win, however, written in late 2018, left an entirely different set of instructions.
So, what happened?
John Hannay was a powerhouse of a man. Imposing in stature and intimidating in his mental capacity. He was very sharp. “He could quickly recall historical facts and could calculate complex equations in his head. He could quickly estimate the club’s profits based on patronage numbers,” says long-time friend and employee Steven Bryant.
John Hannay also loved a challenge, particularly the challenge of making money. “John was very passionate about making money,” Bryant recalls.
Towards the end of his life, however, John Hannay suffered increasing ill-health. After suffering a stroke in 2013, Hannay underwent six months of rehabilitation. Despite this, Hannay was confined to a wheelchair, had difficulty speaking and seemed to take a lot longer to understand what was going on around him. He also relied more and more on carers to attend to his every need. His health did not improve as the years went by.
Hannay was a shrewd businessman who regularly and decisively undertook major renovations of his various businesses throughout his career. However, in 2017 when Hannay undertook renovation of the Black Marble Bar his capacity for rational decision-making seemed lost. “Previously, when John renovated a bar, he always appeared to know exactly what he wanted, and he insisted the renovations be executed as quickly as possible,” recalls Bryant. However, this time it was a completely different story.
“John constantly and repeatedly changed his mind on most aspects of the design, fixtures and fittings. I would estimate that John changed his mind two-to-three times on most renovation decisions that needed to be made… [he] must have wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on changing his mind,” Bryant said.
“By late 2017 I found that when I tried to explain anything to John, he would often look at me blankly and rarely did he respond coherently or sensibly. By this time, my opinion was that John could not comprehend what I was saying,” Bryant further recollects.
Bryant recalls visiting John in hospital on 17 November 2018. “During my visit I tried to speak to John but I don’t think John recognised me. John kept dozing off, and when he was awake, I did not think he seemed about to comprehend what was being said to him,” he said.
John Vanden Heuvel (a close friend of John Hannay’s for over 30 years) recalls visiting the hospital the same day, only to be ushered out of Hannay’s room at the request of Hannay’s solicitor and one of his carers. He “didn’t have a good feeling” about what went on in the room after that. That was, of course, the day that a Hannay created a new will, one which was later overturned.
Lawyer Christopher O’Connor further explains, “There three main instances in which estates can be challenge the validity of a will in Queensland: which are undue influence, and incapacity. The evidence was overwhelming that John Hannay wasn’t of sound mind when he when he purportedly gave instructions for his final will. However, there is a lesson in there for all of us, particularly for people who do not have children or spouses, that creating a will now, while you are definitely of sound mind and body, is the key to ensuring you have a well-considered will and estate plan to ensure your wishes are carried out when the evitable happens.”
“People don’t want to think about dying but it’s part of life. However, it’s vital to have your affairs in order as sometimes these things do happen. “When an estate dispute arises and lawyers are involved, the estate can quickly be eroded by legal fees. If the Hannay dispute went to a trial the legal bill for both sides could have been in excess of $1 million, most estates are not big enough to absorb a cost of this size. As an estate lawyer, I see it too often, people spend their entire lives trying to accumulate wealth but don’t turn their mind to will and estate planning and when a dispute arises their hard earned money is spent on legal bills as opposed to going to their family and or loved ones” O’Connor explains. “Fortunately, our extensive groundwork clearly demonstrated to the plaintiffs that if they pursued their claim they would ultimately fail, and they decided to settle.”
And so, the beat goes on. But just like Cloudland and the Whisky au gogo before it, this is a club that’s filled with stories of intrigue, scandal and mystery just waiting to be told.
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