The widow and mother of Michael Erceg at his funeral.
You may believe that estate disputes most commonly happen when there is a large amount of money to fight over. That can be true, as evidenced in the following examples.
Liquor magnate Michael Erceg was thought to be worth over $600 million when his helicopter crashed, killing him at the age of 50. He left behind his widow, children and his elderly mother. The eventual sale of his empire to Japanese giant Asashi for $1.5 billion in 2011 set off a chain reaction of family squabbles over the money.
His mother, Millie, filed a suit against his widow, Lynette, who was the trustee of the Erceg Family Trust, claiming that the sale of the assets of the business had been kept secret. She also filed a civil lawsuit which asked for details including valuations of the business, financial documents for the trust and the minutes of the trustee meetings.
The judge agreed to keep the exact proceedings of the court battle private, stating that “publication [of the facts] will widen an unfortunate family rift making settlement more difficult.”
Lynette’s reaction to the lawsuit stated that they preferred to keep the details of the beneficiaries of the trust, including their identities and distributions, private so that further disharmony between family members could be prevented. The judge stated that “there is already an unfortunate history of conflict and tension between them.”
Businessman Tracy Gough died in 1955 and the bitter litigation surrounding his estate continues to this day. The estate is said to be worth $350 million, and the majority of the assets are held in trusts. At the time of his death, he had three children from two marriages.
The beneficaries of his trusts were his children, all of whom have now died, and his grandchildren. While they were still alive, the two brothers Owen and Blair disagreed about who should have control of the trusts and set up sub-trusts each, appointing themselves as the heads of their own respective trusts. But with the main trust now being wound up, the battle has ended up in the High Court, with the estates of both brothers still fighting for control.
Businessman and philanthropist Hugh Green was worth about $350 million when he died in 2012. His charitable trust gave away about $3 million each year under the guidance of his daughter Maryanne. He had signed a new will months before his death which left the bulk of his fortune to a trust controlled by two of his other children. A year after his death, Maryanne challenged her father’s will, claiming that those two children had unduly influenced their father into signing a new will. The case is still before the courts with a decision expected by Christmas.
However it is also true that estate disputes happen between ordinary people and modest estates. There are ways to minimise the risk of litigation over an estate.
If you are concerned about estate litigation, contact us today for a free 10-minute consultation.