The dispute over the will of Australian surf photographer Martin Tullemans has been settled

The sister of the late Australian surf photographer Martin Tullemans has lost her bid for his fortune, ending a years-long legal battle surrounding a will labeled ‘powder keg’ – and one of its beneficiaries as ‘a**eloch’.

Tullemans, whose surfing images have appeared in magazines in Australia and the US for more than four decades, died in December 2020, sparking a dramatic legal saga.

His sister Maria Bernadina Shaw applied to the Brisbane Supreme Court for a will based on an alleged 2019 will she found in an envelope marked ‘powder keg’ while cleaning Tullemans’ cabin in 2020 while he was in hospital.

The will left most of the estate to the Tullemans wife Shaw, who she claimed contained about $380,000 in cash and $246,000 in interest on her late father Peter’s estate.

But Tullemans’ daughter-in-law Tamar Tane questioned the validity of the will and instead applied for a will to a 2013 will that left his entire estate to Ms Tane and her three siblings.

The validity of the 2013 will was undisputed. The court only had to decide whether to replace it with the 2019 will.

Angry letter locked in safe

Ms Shaw claimed she found the 2019 will along with an angry letter locked in a safe and wrapped in an envelope marked ‘powder keg’.

It was made using a Prepare Your Own Will package and was written almost entirely by Mrs. Shaw’s son David and signed by her late father Petrus and one of Tulleman’s neighbors.

“This is only to be read if the will is contested,” it said in a letter.

“I wrote this because it’s the right thing to do, it’s totally of my own free will, I’m good (I’m going to Brisbane, I’m selling photos/slides etc, I’m planning on my calendar etc) [sic] My father’s money could be part of that will, so it’s important that I make my intentions clear.”

It painted a bright picture of Ms Shaw and a rather dull picture of her “a**ehole” brother Frank.

“Frank has a long history of conspiracies and intrigues. He extorts every penny he can out of situations,” it said. “$50,000 is way more than he ever made as he doesn’t need the money at all; and he’s an ‘asshole’.

“Mary, my sister, is a nurse and she has supported my father at home…Mary deserves help and she has two children who would benefit greatly from it.

“Definitive [sic] I don’t want 1 cent to go to court. Please note!”

Ms Shaw’s son claimed he wrote the will on instructions from Tullemans, who told him to keep it a secret – including from Ms Shaw herself – until after his death.

The 2013 will, however, was simpler.

It appointed Tullemans’ daughter-in-law, Mrs Tane, as executor and bequeathed the entire estate in equal parts to her and her three siblings.

“An Atmosphere of Distrust”

In a decision issued Friday, Judge David Jackson said there were numerous circumstances surrounding the 2019 will that were suspicious.

This included the fact that it was discovered by Mrs Shaw, who was also the main beneficiary – and written almost entirely by her son.

It was a material departure from the 2013 will and Tullemans had no apparent knowledge of it at a meeting with his attorney in 2020, and there was no evidence he discussed it with anyone after it was made.

Mr Jackson said there also remained significant unanswered questions about the signatures and initials of the 2019 will.

Curiously, the neighbor who signed the will said she was not present when it was written and signed without reading it.

She didn’t know she had signed a will, the court heard. She also refused to sign the request letter.

“These circumstances combine to create a well-founded atmosphere of suspicion that Mary [Maria Shaw] has not been satisfactorily removed,” said Justice Jackson.

He spoke out in favor of the 2013 will.

Originally published as a legal battle over the Australian surfing legend’s estate, finally resolved

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