Wilson Lucom (pictured, right) was a wealthy tycoon from Florida whose third wife, Hilda, was from one of Panama's wealthiest families. Hilda had previously been married to a powerful politician in the country and has five adult children from that marriage. Wilson and Hilda lived in Panama when he died in 2006.
Wilson Lucom's will left more than $50 million to help the staggering number of poor children in Panama. Hilda and her family weren't very happy with the will and filed legal proceedings to have the will thrown out in 2006. You can read our prior blog article about the case here.
Wilson's will was upheld by the first two courts in Panama that heard the case. But Hilda appealed again, to Panama's Supreme Court. Before the ruling came out, there were some interesting articles, including this one, describing how Panama's legal system is marred by corruption. Yet there was still hope that the Supreme Court would uphold the will.
Sadly, it was reported a few days ago that the Supreme Court overturned the will, to the benefit of Hilda and her five children (who are already wealthy and powerful), costing the children of Panama more than $50 million, which would have funded new charities to help them. Here's the article from England's Guardian Newspaper about the decision.
The Supreme Court apparently believed that Lucom really wanted to benefit his "beloved wife" rather than helping combat childhood poverty. Hilda had attacked her late husband's lawyer, Richard Lehman, and charged that he coerced Lucom into creating the will, so Lehman could run the charities and manage the money. Hilda and her lawyers even caused criminal charges to be filed against Lehman, placing him on an Interpol list. The criminal charges were thrown out, but Lehman was crushed by the Court's decision to ignore the will.
He was disgusted that Hilda and her family were allowed to steal money from starving children, in his words.
Most will contest cases are devastating for those involved, emotionally and often financially. But the impact of this one is so far-reaching as to devastate an entire country.
It's too bad that Lucom didn't place his money into a trust administered in a country away from Panama's political influences. Then the wishes in his will to help the poor children of Panama could have been preserved.
Good estate planning can prevent many court fights over estates. Yet most adults in our country don't even have a simple will. Hopefully sad lessons like this one will help encourage everyone to visit experienced estate planning attorneys and protect their wishes.
Posted by: Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras, co-authors of Trial and Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founders of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law. Andrew and Danielle are husband and wife attorneys, professional speakers and consultants across the country. Follow us on Facebook and Google+.