Legendary Figures Feed

Estate of Bobby Fischer facing a possible Checkmate

The New York Times recently featured a story about the person universally recognized as one of the greatest chess players of all time.  Robert James "Bobby" Fischer died from kidney disease on January 17, 2008 at the age of 64.  He was buried in Iceland, where he lived for the last few years of his life.Bobby-fischer

He was a King in the game of chess and his life was anything but conventional.  So why should Fischer's estate be simple?

Fischer scorned his 1972 world chess championship, renouncing it in 1975.  He retreated from the world and turned his back on fame and fortune. 

When he finally emerged for a rematch in 1992, he became a national fugitive.  Why?  Fischer ignored government warnings not to play the match in Yugoslavia, because of a trade embargo.  This made him a criminal.  He found refuge in Iceland, which granted him citizenship and prevented deportation.

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Trial over L'Oreal heiress sparks French political scandal

It's been more than 18 months since the daughter of France's richest woman sued to protect her from a man described as a "dandy" who had received more than $1 billion (U.S. value) in gifts from the owner of cosmetic giant L'Oreal.  You can read The Probate Lawyer Blog's last article on the case here.Lillianebettencourt

The daughter of 87-year-old Liliane Bettencourt sued Francois-Marie Banier, a 63-year old (male) celebrity photographer who reportedly has befriended Johnny Depp, Salvador Dali and others.  Banier claims the lavish gifts of cash and art masterpieces were given to him by Bettencourt when she was mentally competent as a thank-you for his years of friendship and help as an advisor.

Bettencourt's daughter, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, was permitted to sue Banier criminally last year.  This means that if she wins her lawsuit, Banier will not only have to return the money, but also face jail time.  The case was set for trial late last week.

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The Elvis Presley Conspiracy (Part IV): What does it all mean?

Many people have contacted me wondering about the final installment in The Probate Lawyer Blog's coverage of Eliza Presley and her efforts to prove she's telling the truth about The Elvis Presley Conspiracy.  Here are the prior installments to refresh your memory.  I promised I would share my personal thoughts about Eliza's DNA and other evidence. 

Now I am able to report that I have read all of Eliza's reports from the Paleo-DNA Laboratory in Ontario, Canada, which analyzed the DNA.  In fact, it's only one of many labs that have examined the DNA at different times.  But it's the only lab to have issued reports about all the various samples.Elvis 2

This Paleo-DNA lab reports show:

  • Eliza and "Jesse" are "1.6 x 10 [to the fifth power] times more likely to be half-siblings as compared to an untested, unrelated person of the general population.  These statistics indicate that these two individuals are likely to be biologically related as half-siblings sharing one parent."  The report shows a match of 9 out of the 13 "loci" tested.
  • The likelihood of Jesse being Eliza's father is zero (apparently 11 out of 13 matching "loci" is needed for that).
  • Jesse and Brenda Smith [the recognized maternal first cousin of Elvis] are 418 times more likely to be related than someone from the general population, suggesting they are biologically related.  6 out of 13 "loci" match.
  • Jesse and Donna Presley [the recognized paternal first cousin of Elvis] are 45.7 times more likely to be related than the general public, again indicating they are likely to be biologically related.  5 out of 9 "loci" match.
  • Eliza and Donna Presley are 31.95 times more likely to be related, so once again, they are likely to be related.  5 out of 9 "loci" match.
  • The 2002 FOX TV Jesse sample was a 100% match with the 2008 Jesse sample (the pink envelope sent to Eliza).  All 13 out of 13 "loci" match.

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Widow of England millionaire in an interesting estate fight

Battles over the assets of those who have passed are far too common, for millionaires and non-millionaires alike.  Usually they involve whether someone was competent when a will or trust change was made, whether a joint bank account owner was supposed to share with the rest of the family, who gets the wedding ring, or other disputes over money and property.Andrea and Brian Walker

But some fights aren't about money. 

59-year old Andrea Walker was crushed when her 64-year old husband died of pancreatic cancer last August.  The couple (who owned a 1000-year-old castle turned into a luxury hotel) had a rocky relationship at times.  In fact, the husband, Brian Walker, reportedly told Andrea he was leaving her in November, 2008, only to return when his cancer was diagnosed a few months later.  They were very close in the months leading up to his demise, with Andrea devoting herself to Brian's care.

At least Andrea thought they were very close. 

Shortly after he passed, she found a red file Brian had kept. What was in it?  A series of documents showing that Brian had donated sperm to a lady he was friendly with. 

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NY Times has interesting feature about Mark Twain's will

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Samuel L. Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.  The New York Times commemorated his passing with an interesting article about his final wishes.  The reporter dug up a copy of his handwritten will from the dusty archives of the probate court in Redding, Connecticut, which Twain called home until he died.Mark Twain

The Times also published copies of other probate records from his estate, including a detailed inventory that listed the property he owned at death.  The executors reported his assets to be worth $541,136.07 (give or take a few cents) as of the date of his passing.  Not a bad sum for a man who found himself broke late in life and rebuilt his fortune in the ten years before he passed.

His largest asset was "50 shares of the capital stock of the Mark Twain Company" valued at $200,000.  He owned a great deal of other stock, a 230-acre homestead, some automobiles, three horses and a cow.  The court documents detail his various holdings, including the value of furnishings of each room of his house.

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Will contest rages over estate of illustrator Tasha Tudor

Tasha Tudor was a beloved children's book illustrator and author who was considered by many to be a 19-century Martha Stewart.  She lived as if it was the 1800s, on a New England farm.  She even raised her four children for years without electricity or running water.  She illustrated such classics as The Wind in the Willows, The Night Before Christmas, and The Secret Garden.Tasha Tudor

Tudor died at the age of 92 on June 18, 2008, eccentric to the end.  According to the New York Times, she claimed to be the reincarnation of a sea captain's wife who lived in the early 19th Century and she strove to replicate that life.  Tudor said that, after she passed, she intended to return to the 1830s. 

Her estate has been estimated to be worth more that two million dollars.  She left almost all of it to only one of her four children.

The will was reportedly signed in 2001 and left everything to her son Seth, and his son Winslow, except for small bequests to the other three children and some of the grandchildren.  Tudor's will says that she didn't leave more to her other children because they were estranged.

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Judge rules that Feng Shui Master forged Nina Wang's will

The Nina Wang case captivated Asia in much the same way the Brooke Astor case made headlines in New York last year.  Only, instead of questions surrounding whether a multi-millionaire's will was invalid, the Nina Wang case involved whether Tony Chan Chun-chuen forged the will of Asia's richest woman, to the tune of about thirteen billion dollars, according to some estimates.  She died at age 69 in 2007.Nina_Wang 2

The case raged for months, and The Probate Lawyer Blog featured several articles about it.  The Hong Kong judge carefully deliberated since closing arguments took place in late September.  Earlier today, the High Court released the 326-page ruling that declared Wang's 2006 will to be a forgery.

Tony Chan contended that Wang had left him her fortune because, rather than being a mere feng shui adviser for her, he was also her secret lover.  Of course, he was married during the affair.  And he was 20 years younger than she was.

Lawyers for the Wang family and charities (the vast majority of her fortune from the prior will, in 2002, was earmarked for charity), said Chan forged the new will.  They also claimed, alternatively, that Chan had tricked her into signing it by declaring it to be a "feng shui will" that he was supposed to destroy as part of a ceremony to help extend her life.

If you're interested, you can read the Court's decision here (don't worry, the helpful Hong Kong Court also provided a much shorter summary of the long legal document which is also available through the same link).  Here are the highlights:

Nina Wang did have an intimate relationship with Tony Chan, but she wanted to keep it a secret.  Despite giving him lavish gifts and payments of money, she didn't want to give him her entire fortune.

Rather, she held true to her wishes in the 2002 will, leaving most of her wealth to charity.

Wang did, in fact, sign a new document in 2006.  But it wasn't the will Tony Chan said it was.  No -- that one was forged . . . through a "highly skilled simulation".  Instead, Wang signed a Specific Bequest Will leaving Chan $10 million (poor guy). 

The Judge didn't find Chan believable -- pointing to his criminal past, among other reasons.  Chan lied and withheld relevant information from the Court, the Judge said.  And, the 2006 will was written in English, not Chinese like the 2002 will.

The judge also said he didn't believe Chan's wife either, who also offered testimony to support the validity of the 2006 will.

Chan's lawyer already promised an appeal.  But, Chan has other concerns in the meantime.  Chan may be referred for criminal prosecution based on the finding of forgery.  And he won't even have the $10 million from the "Specific Bequest Will".  That partial will wasn't located and Chan didn't offer it for admission to the Court.  So he may not even get that amount.

The real irony here is that Chan's path is eerily similar to Nina Wang's.  Her husband was kidnapped in 1990 and was never found.  (In fact, that's how she met Chan -- he was supposed to help locate her husband).  After Wang's husband was declared dead, the father-in-law challenged the will that left Nina Wang everything. 

And, just like in this case, the will was found to be a forgery and Nina Wang was charged criminally.

But, Nina Wang ultimately won on appeal and was exonerated.  She inherited her husband's fortune, despite originally losing her case.  Will her feng shui master/former lover be as lucky on appeal?

Feb 4, 2010 Update -- Tony Chan has been arrested because of the ruling.  Read the story here

Posted by:  Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder 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.  You can email him at awmayoras @ brmmlaw.com.

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