Mining tycoon Gina Rinehart has opted to step down from the family trust just prior to a court case which was set to resolve an acrimonious dispute between herself and her children.
The three eldest children of Gina Rinehart - John Hancock, Bianca Rinehart and Hope Rinehart Welker - lodged a claim against their mother back in September 2011 in a bid to remove her as head of the multi-billion dollar family trust.
The Hope Margaret Hancock Trust was established by Gina Rinehart's father, Lang Hancock, for his grandchildren and is estimated to be worth at least $4 billion. The trust exercises control of 23.45 per cent of Hancock Prospecting Proprietary Limited.
Gina Rinehart's children alleged their mother engaged in serious misconduct as head of the trust, triggering a rancorous family feud which became public knowledge, with private emails showing that Rinehart accused her own children of being lazy.
Hope Welker has since switched sides, aligning herself with her mother, while Gina Rinehart's youngest daughter, Ginia Rinehart, took the side of her mother from the outset of the dispute.
While the matter was originally scheduled to go to trial next week, Gina Rinehart has taken the surprise move of offering to resign as head of the family trust and participate in mediation for the appointment of a new trustee as her replacement.
Rinehart's lawyer informed the New South Wales Supreme Court that she wishes to appoint a new trustee via mediation, who would ideally be a "lineal descendant" with some experience of the resources industry, who has not previously evinced a desire for "personal favours."
Bruce McClintock, Gina Rinehart's lawyer, said the move demonstrates his client's desire to bring the protracted family feud to a swift conclusion.
"Mrs Rinehart has the power to appoint a new trustee or trustees - under the Western Australian Trustees Act, the documents governing the Trust and the agreement of the beneficiaries under the Hope Downs Deed - and is willing to do so," McClintock said.
"But [she] first wishes to do so in consultation with the beneficiaries or their representatives."
Bianca Rinehart, Gina Rinehart's eldest daughter, is considered a highly likely candidate for the position of head of the trust given John Hancock's opposition to Ginia Rinehart's appointment as the new trustee.
Should mediation for the appointment of a new head of the trust fail however, a judge could be called on to make the appointment.
Gina Rinehart is Australia's wealthiest person, with a personal fortune of approximately $17 billion as of January 2013 amassed primarily in the mining sector.
In addition to her position as executive chairperson of Hancock Prospecting Pty Limited, which enjoys 50 per cent of the profits generated by the Hope Downs Mine, Rinehart also has significant interests in the Australian media, with a 10 per cent stake in Ten Network Holdings and a 18.67 per cent stake in Fairfax Media, making her the company's largest shareholder.