Thursday, December 14, 2017
Max Hopper served as Senior Vice President of American Airlines, Chief Information Officer of Bank of America, and was chairman of the Sabre Group. The Texas native accumulated an extensive and impressive resume over the course of his working career. His unexpected death due to a stroke in 2010 left his family devastated. To make matters worse, Hopper passed with a $19 million estate and no will. The family, seeking professional help to distribute to the heirs, hired JP Morgan Chase to administer the fortune. Though the bank is usually associated with professionalism and responsibility, this was not quite the experience had by the Hopper family.
The administrators at JP Morgan took incredible amounts of time to release assets, refused to listen to the wishes of Hopper’s heirs, and consistently missed financial deadlines. Hopper’s family eventually took the case to court and succeeded on their claims of breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract. The jury awarded them $4.7 million in compensatory damages along with $5 million in attorney’s fees. More spectacular though was the $4 billion in punitive damages. Prior to the verdict, Mrs. Hopper asked the jury to “send a message loud enough for JPMorgan to hear it all the way to Park Avenue in Manhattan.” They were apparently more than willing to accommodate the request.
Despite this resounding victory for the Hopper family, it is important to note that this process was extremely difficult for all involved. Mrs. Hopper claimed that “surviving stage 4 lymphoma cancer was easier than dealing with this bank and its estate administration.” Though this may be a bit of hyperbole, it highlights the additional stress created when a decedent passes without a will, and the great benefit of properly planning the distribution of an estate prior to death.
See Inna Fershteyn, An Estate Planning Nightmare: Hopper v. JP Morgan, Brooklyn Trust and Will.com, December 2, 2017.
Special thanks to Alexander Evelson for bringing this article to my attention.