QLD Get Property Transferred to Church Back Under Contract Law?

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8 August 2016
S is a worshipper at the Church of Anders. The Church of Anders is a small but very enthusiastic cult which believes, among other things, that its leader, A is the embodiment of God on earth, and that one can get direct access to the spiritual life through the daily consumption of lots of wine and the donation of personal wealth to the cult.

In February 2014, A suggested to S that her spiritual growth would be rapidly advanced if she were to donate her home (her only asset) to the Church of Anders. He suggested that she could live in the church building itself.

S wasn't sure about the idea, even though she did like the prospect of being closer to her highest spiritual self and closer to God (as embodied by A). S said to A that she would talk to a lawyer about the idea.

S went to see a lawyer about A's proposal. The only lawyer she knew was a real estate lawyer named J who was also a member of the congregation of the Church of Anders. She paid for J's advice. He also drew up the paperwork necessary to give effect to a transfer, if that's what she decided to do.

In June 2014 S used the paperwork that J prepared to transfer the house and land she owned at Clayfield to A personally (rather than into the name of the Church of Anders). It had a market value of AUD$2million at that time. S transfers it to A for AU$100.

After some scandals arising from drunken brawls at services in 2015, the liquor licensing section of the Department of Gaming and Racing launched an investigation into the Church of Anders. That investigation was followed swiftly by an ATO investigation into its leader, A. After adverse findings from both in December 2015, the Church of Anders fell apart.

In February 2016, the ATO seized all assets in A's name to offset A's bill for tax assessments that were never paid. The seized assets include the property at Clayfield that used to be S's home.

S has now become disillusioned with the faith that was once so important to her and has walked away from the cult. She says angrily, "I can't believe I was ever so silly as to give away my home!” As the Church has been shut down by the authorities, she can no longer live in the Church building, and is homeless.

She has come to see you for legal help on whether there is anything you can do to get her only asset back under contract law.

What help will you give her?