Durban property company boss Chris Pearson has been taken to court by the children of his late twin brother, Nicholas, who want him removed as executor of their father’s estate.
The four children accuse their uncle of reneging on a promise he made to their father on his deathbed, and in their presence, that they would be “taken care of”.
In their application in the Durban High Court, they are also asking for an order that two preschools, Little Noddy Play Centre on the Berea and Little Noddy PreSchool in Glenwood, which they say were largely owned by their father, be deemed part of his estate.
This is being opposed by Re/Max boss Pearson, who accuses his niece and nephews of “ingratitude”.
Their father’s second wife, Priscilla Pearson – who is cited in the court action – has also laid claim to interests in the schools. She accuses the children and Chris Pearson of “securing money which none of them have worked… to receive”.
“The circumstances in which the last will and testament were executed were deplorable,” she says, adding that her husband was sick at the time of signing it.
While the court action by Nicholas Pearson jr, his siblings, Lara and Scott, and a 17-year-old half-brother, who may not be named, was launched last year, The Mercury understands that it is Priscilla who has now pushed for the matter to be set down for hearing so it can be resolved.
According to court papers, Pearson jr and his siblings were raised from an early age by their mother and stepfather in Cape Town, but were maintained by their father, Nicholas Pearson sr who, during his life dabbled in several businesses, sometimes making and sometimes losing money.
In his affidavit, Nicholas Pearson jr, 22, says he returned to Durban in 2008 to attend the Sharks Academy, help look after his father who had cancer, and to assist with the running of the two schools.
He said his father had in the past been in financial difficulty. When he bought the Berea school he used his father Robert and mother Cecily as “nominees”. Cecily has since died.
“My father advised me on numerous occasions that he paid for all the costs of the registration of transfer, he paid the bond and rates. He was the owner of the school and Robert and Cecily had nothing to do with it.
“He was a 50 percent shareholder of the Glenwood school – his second wife Priscilla owning the other half. And likewise it was operated by him, albeit with Priscilla’s direct involvement.”
As his father became more ill, they often discussed the businesses and that his father was “grooming” him to manage and operate the two schools, Nicholas jr said.
He says that at one stage Priscilla had a document drafted giving her a share in the Berea school, but his father refused to sign this. This caused problems in the relationship and for this reason his father came to live with him temporarily.
In August 2010, when his father was dying, Chris Pearson arrived with a will for his father to sign.
“My siblings and I were all present. My father specifically asked whether the schools were dealt with, and sought confirmation from him that same would devolve on his four biological children. Chris Pearson assured ‘this would be taken care of’.”
But they discovered that six days after their father died, Chris Pearson did a deal with his father Robert in which Robert handed over 50 percent of the Berea school to him for nothing.
The relationship between Chris Pearson and his nephew deteriorated. It became apparent that Chris Pearson did not consider the Berea school to be part of the estate.
“He has no intention of honouring our father’s express wish that the school and property devolve upon us, the heirs, in equal shares,” Nicholas jr said.
“We are concerned that he may try to dispose of the schools and may deplete the profits if left to continue managing the same.”
Priscilla Pearson, in her affidavit, agrees that Robert and the late Cecily Pearson were just nominees for “convenience and nothing else” and has put up a document signed by them in 2004 effectively confirming this.
She lays claim to 25 percent of the Berea school and denies there was any conflict between herself and her late husband over this.
Chris Pearson says his niece and nephews are “sadly misinformed” about the true state of the estate’s financial affairs and the issues around the two schools.
He admits doing a deal with his father for 50 percent of the Berea school, saying it made “commercial sense”.
Given the disarray of his late twin’s financial affairs, he had “undertaken to involve himself in managing the schools” and, as such, was entitled to remuneration.
“I have every intention of honouring the will… I deny doing anything improper,” he said.
The matter is expected to come before court on June 27. - The Mercury