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Psychologist on trial for $2m estate theft

A Melbourne psychologist is accused of trying to steal up to $2.25 million from her dying partner by creating a fake will to exclude her family.

Kris Schroder, 61, offered to pay her partner Maree Hart’s niece and nephew $200,000 to drop action against the will and forged two friends’ signatures, prosecutor David O’Doherty told a jurors in a County Court trial on Friday.

Schroder has pleaded not guilty to nine charges including obtaining financial advantage by deception, perverting the course of justice and perjury.

Prosecutors allege Schroder created a fake will for her dying partner that left about $2.25 million worth of property, inheritance and shares to her, and excluded family members who were named as beneficiaries in a prior will.

But Schroder rejects that the will was fake, denies knowing it was fake and denies forging her friend’s signatures to gain a financial advantage by deception, her lawyer Simon Kenny said.

The psychologist began a relationship with Ms Hart, a registered nurse, in 1994 and moved into Ms Hart’s Newport property four years later.

In 2006 the couple purchased a property in Kew, with Ms Hart owning 80 per cent and Schroder the remaining 20 per cent.

Ms Hart was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer in 2015 and died in a hospice the following year.

Her $2.25 million estate included $1.2 million for her share in the Kew house and $909,000 from her late mother’s estate.

Before Ms Hart’s death, Schroder told her partner’s niece and nephew their aunt did not have her affairs in order and did not have medical or financial powers of attorney, Mr O’Doherty said.

She sold the couple’s Kew property for $1.5 million subject to probate and travelled to Thailand with two of her friends, where she allegedly told them she’d created a fake will, dated 2014, and forged their signatures as witnesses.

Schroder then applied to the Supreme Court for probate, citing the 2014 will, which made her the sole beneficiary of Ms Hart’s estate.

Ms Hart’s sister initially contested the will but withdrew her case after Schroder revealed a 1998 will which had named the niece and nephew as additional beneficiaries.

The nephew then lodged his own caveat over the will.

Schroder, the jury was told, then tried to get Ms Hart’s niece and nephew to withdraw the caveat by offering them $100,000 each from the estate.

They were played a voicemail in which Schroder offered the siblings a share of the inheritance and gave them two days to accept her offer.

The trial before Judge Claire Quin continues.

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