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  • Darrell Lea heir's millions locked away by state
  • By Caitlin Fitzsimmons
  • 10/02/2019 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: Pina ( 12 articles in 2019 )
Robert and Simone Lee at their Gold Coast home.
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As one of the heirs to the Darrell Lea fortune, Robert Lea is worth nearly $15 million. At 72, he could be enjoying a sweet retirement.

Instead Mr Lea and his wife Simone Lea, 56, are living in a “run-down” house with mouldy tiles and ceiling cracks and he is forced to “beg” the Queensland government for permission to spend his own money.

Mr Lea is under financial administration of the Public Trustee of Queensland, which has charged him hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees since 2013.

Mrs Lea claims her husband has memory lapses but can make decisions in daily life and make his wishes known. Mr Lea spoke to The Sun-Herald briefly to confirm he wanted the story reported.

Mr Lea, one of the grandsons of the Darrell Lea founder, came into his millions after the Lea family sold the chocolate business to the Quinn family in 2012.

Mr and Mrs Lea live in a modest four-bedroom brick veneer home in Worongary, a Gold Coast suburb about 12km from the sea. The house is worth about $520,000, based on Domain estimates.

Mr Lea was worth $14.68 million at the end of 2018, an account statement from the public trustee reveals. From that Mr and Mrs Lea are paid a living allowance of $185,000 a year including $50,000 set aside for capital expenses.

While that is well above the average household income, Mr Lea’s wealth could be funding a very different lifestyle.

Jonathan Philpot, a partner with wealth management firm HLB Mann Judd, said he could not give personal advice but a hypothetical couple with that net worth could “well and truly” afford to upgrade their home.

Mr Philpot said a risk-free investment strategy for $14 million would earn 3 per cent a year - generating income of $420,000 a year before tax. To beat inflation, it would be better to invest in some shares and aim for a 5 per cent return.

Mrs Lea said their home was “very run-down” and she and Robert had been begging for several years to be allowed to upgrade the “leaking, mouldy and ugly” bathrooms. Emails sighted by The Sun-Herald suggest that in 2016 the public trustee agreed to allow the Leas to order bathroom tiles, only to change their minds. The bathroom renovation is going ahead now, nearly three years later.

The Leas are now requesting the replacement of their shed, which Mrs Lea says has termite damage.

Mrs Lea has to pay for living expenses on her credit card and then apply to the public trustee for reimbursement. However, she claims that sometimes the public trustee will veto purchases after the fact even if it’s within the approved budget. Bank statements reveal Mrs Lea had no credit card debt in 2012 and 2013, but now has an outstanding balance of $37,000, incurring interest charges of $385 a month.

“It’s harassment, pure and simple,” Mrs Lea says. “This is how they break people - but they won’t break me.”

Meanwhile, statements reveal the public trustee charged about $86,000 in fees and another $17,000 in outlays such as tax agent fees, investment unit fees, postage and phone calls between September 2013 and April 2018. Separately, the public trustee has charged nearly $223,000 in other fees to Mr Lea’s trust.

Most of the money held by the public trustee on behalf of Mr Lea is held in cash. A total of $11.5 million is held in an at-call account earning about 2.5 per cent interest, statements reveal. The public trustee charges Mr Lea nearly $2800 for placing an external investment, including opening or rolling over a term deposit.

When approached for comment, the Public Trustee of Queensland said it would be "quite improper and unlawful" to provide information about an adult for whom the public trustee is appointed administrator. The public trustee also said the information Mrs Lee had provided was "lacking in context".

Guardianship and financial administration or management are state-based systems designed to protect people who lack decision-making capacity and don’t have suitable family members to protect them.

There are problems with the public trustee system Australia wide, as revealed by a Herald and Age investigation last week.

The disability discrimination commissioner has described the whole concept of substitute decision making as “butchering a number of human rights” and at odds with our United Nations human rights commitments.


Governments have been fiddling in the area for years - mostly to the detriment of those involved. For example in NSW in 2009 the Government decided to merge the Pubic Trustee - who covered costs and was well run - and the Protective Commissioner - who did not - and put the then Protective Commissioner in charge. It was a naked grab for the reserves of the Public Trustee and lo and behold those reserves are gone, half the branches have been shut and a third of the staff given redundancies - here is a very good description of what was going to happen -

I took one look at the way the Public Trustee operates with regard to making "Free wills" - and I ran a mile. Of course a private solicitor was probably trying to go down the same path, but when I said "not interested" in the "option" he was offering, I never heard from him again. As a Trustee, isn't there some legal obligation to put the person who is in gardianship to the Trustee and their interests foremost - not the government, or the department? Our state governments have us all in thrall to their primary interests. And it stinks.

Joe Sucato
The solution is to distribute everything before you die if you can and leave the Public Trustee with NOTHING but a smile

The story should be more about the Public Trustee and the fees.
The sympathy angle, just isn’t working here.

Sydney Chick
I used to think the public trustee was there to help people and charge small fees, but now I realise I have it the wrong way round - they don't help people and they charge high fees!

It is a pity that this government gave the Haynes RC an enormous scope and a very short time frame, thus ensuring that with all the best effort in the world they couldn't do it all.
It was the Royal Commission you have when you don't want a royal commission.

So, is this anomalous behaviour of Queensland Public Trustees going to be challenged in Court.
Or are the legislators going to bring down common sense laws.
Or should I change my will with an expensive Lawyer, which may prove more expensive than the Trustee??

Use a lawyer to change your will. It will be more expensive not to.

It cost our family around $3-4K to set up wills, testamentary trusts, enduring powers of attorney, etc. money well spent when you see this. I’m sure you can find cheaper.


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