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Kirtland & Seal, L.L.C.

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Estate battle involves multiple courts, allegations of murder

Most estate battles don’t attract a great deal of attention, but there are exceptions. A dispute involving the spendthrift trust fund of a millionaire’s grandson has spawned lawsuits in three states. Its dramatic background and complexity have drawn national interest.

At issue in a Connecticut courtroom is whether or not the 25-year-old beneficiary can have the trustees, his maternal aunts, removed for failing to fulfill their fiduciary duty on his behalf. They refuse to release additional funds to him from the existing trust for his alleged legal needs while seeking in another court to end his entitlement to the funds altogether.

The young man’s grandfather was found shot to death in his own home in 2013. While the beneficiary hasn’t been charged in the millionaire’s death, police have stated he is a person of interest. In addition, he is accused of purposefully causing a boat to sink when he went out on the ocean in 2016 with his mother. He was rescued after several days adrift, but his mother is presumed dead. The insurance company for the boat has refused to pay for its loss because of their suspicions and is fighting the issue in another court.

For their parts, the aunts have filed a “slayer petition” in New Hampshire, asking the court there to declare the young man his grandfather’s murderer. While the civil verdict would have no bearing in criminal court, it would bar him from inheriting from his victim. The aunts are further seeking to block the young man from inheriting any additional money from his mother.

The beneficiary’s aunt admits that she previously distributed funds from the trust for his use, including paying for a lawyer to defend his interests against the police’s suspicions, because it was her duty. However, her attorney is essentially arguing that she hasn’t violated her fiduciary duty since the spendthrift trust is only designed to make certain that the beneficiary’s basic needs are met, and they are.

So far, there’s no outcome on any of the issues. The court is looking deeper into the finances of both the trust and the beneficiary before it decides what, if anything, he is currently due.

Cases this complicated are far from normal, but family disputes do frequently turn into contested wills. To avoid a protracted probate dispute, talk to your attorney today.