Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ten Infamous Family Estate Feuds

ImagesCACXNQ3G The world has witnessed many infamous estate battles over the years. Below is the 24/7 Wall Street’s list of the Most Infamous Family Estate Feuds:

1. J. Howard Marshal II

Marshall married former stripper Anna Nicole Smith in 1994 when he was eighty-nine and she was in her twenties. Fourteen months after they married, Marshall died. Marshall’s will left nothing to Smith, and she filed suit alleging that Marshall’s son, E. Pierce Marshall, prevented Marshall from including Smith in his will through forgery, fraud, and false imprisonment. Smith died in 2007, and the case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court for a second time.

2. Leona Helmsley

Helmsley, a billionaire New York City real estate developer, left $12 million to her eight year old dog, Trouble. Her will left nothing to her grandchildren, stating that she had "not made any provisions in this Will for my grandson Craig Panzirer or my granddaughter Meegan Panzirer for reasons which are known to them." A judge reduced the dog’s inheritance to $2 million in 2008, and the remaining $10 million went to charity.

3. Brooke Astor

Astor was a philanthropist and New York socialite. When she passed away, her will named her only son Anthony D. Marshall as the executor of her $198 million estate. In 2006, Marshall’s son Philip accused his father of defrauding Astor and stealing millions of dollars from her estate. A court found Marshall guilty of fraud, conspiracy, and first-degree larceny. The court sentenced him to one to three years in prison.

4. Sumner Redstone

Sumner is the chairman and majority shareholder of CBS, Viacom and National Amusements. His daughter, Shari Redstone, is vice-chairman of CBS and Viacom. In 2007, Redstone stated he was not sure if wanted Shari to succeed him in the business. Sumner and Shari had another heated dispute after National Amusements was forced to sell $233 million in CBS and Viacom stock.

5. Jay Pritzker

Pritzker gained his fortune, in part, through his Hyatt hotel chain. In 1999, after Pritzker’s death, two of his grandchildren sued their father (Pritzker’s son) alleging that he and other relatives had stolen $1 billion from the grandchildren’s trust funds. The suit settled in 2005 after both grandchildren received $500 million.

6. H.L. Hunt

Hunt was a Texas oil tycoon. Hunt created several trusts to provide for his family, and in 2008 his great-grandson sued his sisters, aunts, uncle, and father alleging mismanagement of his grandmother’s and great uncle’s trust funds. The great-grand son, Albert G. Hill III, was eventually disinherited, and he and his wife were later indicted on numerous felony counts of mortgage fraud.

7. John Seward Johnson II

Johnson was the son of Robert Wood Johnson I (co-founder of Johnson & Johnson). When he passed, Johnson’s will left almost all of his estate to his third wife and to a former maid. John’s children contested the will. After three years and $10 million worth of legal fees, a judge found that Johnson had been mentally incompetent when he executed the will and ordered Johnson’s third wife to pay $160 million to Johnson’s children.

8. James Brown

Singer James Brown left behind an estate worth about $100 million. Brown created two trusts in his will into which his estate was to be divided. One trust was for his grandchildren’s education, and the other was for the education of needy children in South Carolina and Georgia. Brown’s wife and children challenged the will, and a judge awarded them half of Brown’s estate. Jacque Hollander, the record producer who helped Brown start the two trusts, has since challenged this decision.

9. Fred Koch

Koch co-founded Koch Industries. For almost twenty years Koch and his brothers feuded over allegations that two of the four brothers cheated the other two out of $2.3 billion. The brothers reconciled in 2001 after years of fighting and after spending millions on legal fees.

10. Ted Williams

Baseball great, Ted Williams, left wishes in his will for his ashes to be spread at sea. Williams’ executor, however, claimed that Williams’ wished to be cryogenically frozen instead. Two of Williams’ children supported the freezing of Williams’ body, while the oldest daughter fought against the unusual disposition of Williams’ body. Currently, Williams’ body and head are frozen separately.

See Douglas McIntyre, The 10 Most Infamous Family Inheritance Feuds, Daily Finance, Jun. 6, 2011.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (WealthCounsel) for bringing this article to my attention.


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I should have known New York's Leona Helmsley would show up on Wall Street’s list of the Most Infamous Family Estate Feuds!

Posted by: RobGrahamLaw | Jun 9, 2011 3:49:28 PM

Ha! I agree! Of course New York's Leona Helmsley would show up on Wall Street’s list of the Most Infamous Family Estate Feuds!

Posted by: RobertWJones | Jun 9, 2011 3:53:44 PM

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