Daughter Sues Mother for Wasting Her Inheritance

A case in New York is a good reminder that it is very important to make sure that trusts details are specific, in order to make the settlor’s wishes crystal clear.

The story had a Hollywood beginning. A schoolteacher and a wealthy real estate investor met through a singles ad, fell in love, got married and had a child.

From that beginning, things quickly turned south.

According to court records filed by the child of that marriage, Elizabeth Marcus, her mother refused to sleep with her father after she was born. The two divorced after a few years and the father passed away, when Marcus was nine years old.

The father did not want his ex-wife to receive any of his assets and instead left half his estate in trust to Marcus. Another child from a previous marriage received the other half.

The trust was originally overseen by Citibank, but after fighting for several years, the mother took control of the trust in 2003, according to the Daily Mail in “Daughter sues her ‘self-involved’ mother for ‘frittering away more than $13m of her inheritance – so she could buy cars and a $6m mansion next to Gwyneth Paltrow in the Hamptons’.”

Marcus is suing her mother now, claiming that her mother has stolen her inheritance to buy expensive items for herself, including a mansion and fancy cars. Most of the original inheritance is now alleged to be gone.

The mother, of course, denies the accusations.

The missing piece of the puzzle from the reports is how the mother was able to gain control of the trust, if the father did not wish her to have it. He might have neglected to be clearer about his wishes in the trust documents.

Reference: Daily Mail (April 23, 2017) “Daughter sues her ‘self-involved’ mother for ‘frittering away more than $13m of her inheritance – so she could buy cars and a $6m mansion next to Gwyneth Paltrow in the Hamptons’.”

Family Wealth Does Not Always Last

Even great amounts of family wealth, can easily be lost by future generations who do not preserve and add to it as the original wealth generator did.

James Jewett Stillman’s greatest lasting achievement was running the bank that eventually grew into Citigroup. However, he had another legacy.

Stillman also had a large and valuable collection of art and an estate he wanted to be preserved for use by the public. If everything had gone according to plan, the art and the estate would have been preserved for generations.

However, everything did not go according to plan.

His heirs are now trying to auction off the art, because they need the money to save the estate, as Bloomberg reports in “New York Banking Royalty’s Heirs Are Unloading Art to Save the Family Estate.”

The source of the problem, in this case, appears to be that trustees who were charged with running the estate have squandered millions of dollars over the years. The estate’s funds have run so low, that the heirs have no choice but to sell something. Therefore, they have chosen to sell the art.

The immediate lesson to be learned? It is very important to choose trustees carefully and to make sure that trust documents are carefully crafted to make squandering money difficult.

However, there is also a more important lesson that wealth does not last forever, unless it is properly maintained. Had it not been the trustees who squandered the wealth in this case, it might have been the future heirs.

Reference: Bloomberg (April 4, 2017) “New York Banking Royalty’s Heirs Are Unloading Art to Save the Family Estate.”