When Julie Woirnarski died, she left her entire $1.7 million estate to her near-destitute sister Elena, living in Spain.
Elena, aged in her 70s, had a heart condition and was living in a rented apartment with no shower or hot water.
The problem for Elena was that her sister’s Caulfield neighbour, Kathleen Unger - the wife of parquetry specialist Hans Unger - believed she deserved a share of Julie’s estate, and went to court seeking a $500,000 payout.
At the time, the Unger family home was worth more than $1 million. The couple also had two houses in East Bentleigh worth more than $1.3 million.
Mrs Unger, now aged 70, claimed she was asset rich but cash poor.
A Supreme Court judge awarded Mrs Unger $200,000 from the estate plus $100,000 in legal costs in 2009 but the Court of Appeal ordered a re-hearing of the case.
A trial was due to begin on Monday in the Supreme Court before the parties agreed on a confidential settlement.
Justice Kate McMillan was told more than $180,000 had already been spent on legal fees and that a total of $400,000 from Julie’s estate had yet to be distributed until the court case was finalised.
In an affidavit filed with the court and obtained by Fairfax Media, lawyer Joseph Bediaga said the court case had caused considerable conflict between Elena and her family in Spain, and she wanted it resolved.
Mr Bediaga claimed Mrs Unger’s son, Hans Unger junior, had travelled to Spain in January this year with two interpreters and met with Elena, her nephew Urbano Garcia Gonzalez and niece Maria Garcia Gonzalez, to discuss the case.
Mr Bediaga said he was concerned pressure was being placed on his elderly client in Spain ‘‘with a view to forcing her to settle the plaintiff’s [Mrs Unger’s] claim’’.
In her affidavit, Mrs Unger rejected Mr Bediaga’s claims and ‘‘emphatically denied’’ trying to exert any pressure on Elena. She said she was now happy to accept $200,000 plus costs from Julie’s estate.
Justice McMillan pointed out that it appeared the only difference between the original hearing in 2009 and Monday’s case was that Mrs Unger’s financial position had changed.
Barrister Dr Kristine Hanscombe, SC, representing Elena, told the court Mrs Unger and her husband, now aged 75, were receiving tax-free pensions from their superannuation fund.
Dr Hanscombe said the two factories which the Unger superannuation fund owned via a property trust had been sold and the proceeds used to buy a new factory.
‘‘So there is quite a substantial difference, we would say, in the position of the plaintiff [Mrs Unger], particularly in terms of income and liquidity,’’ Dr Hanscombe said.
Justice McMillan said Mrs Unger was also claiming that the value of her home, estimated to be worth $1,040,000, had not increased since January 2012 ‘‘whereas anecdotal evidence would suggest that property values have risen substantially over the last few years’’.
The court was told Julie Sanchez was born in Spain in 1934, the seventh of nine children, before emigrating to Australia when she was 28. She met and married Stan Woirnarski and the couple bought a house in Kooyong Road, Caulfield, in 1967.
Their neighbours, the Ungers, lived three doors away.
Stan died in 2002 and Julie passed away five years later, leaving her entire $1.7 million estate to her sister, Elena, the eighth of the nine siblings.
Mrs Unger contested the will, claiming she had taken on the role of carer and guardian for the Woirnarskis, who saw her as their adopted daughter.
She regularly visited the couple, took them for outings, attended to their needs, and became their primary source of company and comfort, the court heard.
Julie’s blood relatives, in contrast, were in Spain, had very little contact with Julie, and their relationship was quite limited.
Lawyers for Elena, now aged 80, told the court she had a heart condition and had lived in a simple apartment for more than 40 years with no shower or hot running water.
Her father had died when she was 14 so, being the youngest daughter, it was her role to remain at home to look after her mother. She lived with her mother and cared for her until she died in about 1983. As a result, Elena never married or had a job.
In her affidavit, Mrs Unger said she and her husband now owned, apart from the family home, a house in East Bentleigh worth $700,000, which was being rented out at $1950 a month.
The couple had sold another East Bentleigh house for $710,000 in 2011.