In the recent case of Bampton v Vourlides [2023] QDC 248, the Supreme Court of Queensland handed down their latest decision considering the issue of undue influence in the context of gifts from a parent to a child. The dispute was taken to the Court of Appeal in March this year but was dismissed. This most recent decision reinforces the hurdles that must be overcome to establish undue influence. 

Relevant background

In 2018, Mr Bampton, who was a fortunate 87-year-old living with his daughter at the time, received an amount just shy of $1 million from winning the lotto. In celebration, he purchased a home for $550,000 and subsequently transferred a generous $300,000 to his daughter as a gift. 

It was accepted that Mr Bampton was an elderly man who required care but he was also financially capable and comfortable and was described by others as having a strong, dominant and forceful personality. 

Nonetheless, Mr Bampton initiated proceedings claiming that he was unduly influenced and bullied by his daughter to make the gift of $300,000, relying on an argument that occurred between the parties shortly before the gift was made. 

What is Undue Influence?

Undue influence is an equitable doctrine concerned with preventing a party from abusing a position of dominance. In context, the courts today have said that transactions such as contracts or gifts may be set aside where there has been an abuse of influence or pressure by one party to secure the other party’s consent to the transaction. 

There are two classes of undue influence. The first arises where there has been actual influence and the second arises where the relations between the parties have been such as to raise a presumption of influence. In determining whether undue influence has been established in all cases the court is more concerned with the impaired consent of the weaker party rather than proof of some wrongful act of the stronger party.

Relevant to our case, a parent and child relationship has been identified as a “special relationship” giving rise to a presumption of influence. Other special relationships include: 

  • penitent and religious adviser;
  • patient and medical adviser / assistant; 
  • client and solicitor; 
  • beneficiary and express trustee; 
  • fiancée and fiancé; 
  • ward and guardian; and 
  • a relationship where the receiver of the gift is in a position to exercise dominion over the person making the gift by reason of the trust and confidence reposed by the parties. 

Rebutting the Presumption of Undue Influence

The presumption of undue influence can be rebutted by showing that the transferor’s act is the result of the free exercise of an independent will. Independent advice is an important consideration but not conclusive to rebut the presumption.  

Key Takeaways

Ultimately, the court held that the circumstances did not prove that the transaction occurred by reason of actual undue influence. The court considered the qualities of Mr Bampton, being that:

  • he was a fiercely independent person and had capacity to make his own financial decisions; and
  • he was an intelligent, dominant and strong-willed person.  

Further, the court held that, in any event, Mrs Vourlides successfully rebutted the presumption of influence, reasoning that: 

  • it is not necessary to demonstrate that independent advice was given in order to rebut the presumption; 
  • even if independent advice was given, it was well established that Mr Bampton had a mind of his own and the capacity to make decisions freely and voluntarily; and 
  • the gift was made at least a few days after the argument, giving Mr Bampton time to reflect on the circumstances. 

Therefore, to overcome the hurdle for a relationship to be treated as presumptively one of influence, it must go beyond mere confidence and influence, to one involving dominion or ascendancy by oner party over the will of the other party. 

Here at Rouse Lawyers, our Estate Planning, Litigation and Property teams are well-versed in all the stages of acquiring, transferring and disputing property ownership. As such, we provide clients with a comprehensive cross-practice approach to estate planning, tailored to each client’s specific circumstances. Contact us today for a no cost appraisal of your needs.