Billionaire Conrad Prebys’s Son Gets $15M after Being Disinherited

Conrad Prebys
San Diego real estate developer and philanthropist Conrad Prebys.

Debra Turner, the longtime live-in partner of San Diego developer and philanthropist Conrad Prebys, has tried to sue the directors of the Conrad Prebys Foundation for their decision to give $15 million to Prebys’ son, Eric, who had been left nothing by Prebys in his estate planning documents.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in the article “Court fight continues over control of $1 billion Prebys estate,” that in January, a San Diego Superior Court judge dismissed Turner’s suit, holding that she had no legal standing to bring it. She then filed an amended complaint. However, recently the judge dismissed her lawsuit.

The legal fight has kept the estate money from going to the charities favored by Conrad Prebys. During his lifetime, he donated more than $350 million to various organizations – most of them in the San Diego area.

Turner says the issue arises from the foundation board’s decision to disregard Prebys’ wishes and give money to his only child, a physicist at UC Davis, who had been written out of the legal documents in 2014.

“When Conrad made a decision, it was done, and he was adamant about revoking Eric’s gift,” Turner told The San Diego Union-Tribune in 2017.

Prebys died in 2016, and his trust left gifts to twelve individuals and institutions. The bulk of his assets were left to to his foundation to “support performing arts, medical research and treatment, visual arts, and other charitable purposes” consistent with the causes he cared about when he was alive. However, a few months after his death, the foundation directors – five unpaid volunteers handpicked by Prebys – met to consider the next steps. The directors included Turner and Laurie Anne Victoria, a longtime executive with Prebys’ real-estate company. Victoria is also the trustee of the Prebys estate.

According to Turner’s lawsuit, a foundation attorney had warned the directors that Eric might contest the will, and if he won, he could “get it all.” Several weeks later, Eric’s attorney indeed sent a letter to the board, raising questions about Conrad’s mental competency at the time that the trust was amended. Eric also believed that Turner had exerted undue influence on his father’s decisions. Turner denied the allegations. But in December 2016, the other directors authorized a settlement. Eric got $9 million, plus $6 million to cover the estate taxes.

Turner then sued the board members on behalf of the foundation, alleging they had breached their duties to protect the estate’s assets.

Victoria defended the settlement as “the only reasonable decision” to avoid the uncertainty, expense and publicity of litigation with Eric and to begin fulfilling Conrad’s charitable wishes. She said the money represented less than 1% of the overall estate.

Turner is no longer on the board, and in dismissing her suit, Superior Court Judge Kenneth Medel said that, under corporate law, Turner can’t sue on behalf of the foundation because she’s no longer a director and, thus, lacks standing. Although she was a director when she filed the suit, the law requires her to maintain board membership throughout the litigation, according to the decision.

Reference: The San Diego Union-Tribune (March 29, 2019) “Court fight continues over control of $1 billion Prebys estate”

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Naming a Child as Successor Trustee?

Children as successor trustees may fight
Naming a child as Successor Trustee isn’t always the best choice for family harmony.

So, you’re creating or changing a revocable living trust, and you tell your estate planning attorney that you wish to name your child as Successor Trustee.

Your Successor Trustee is the person who will step in to handle your trust assets when you become incapacitated or die. You have three children who all get along famously. Should you name one of them as your Successor Trustee?

No.

Okay, maybe that’s an overly-simplified answer. I’ll change it to “probably not.” Naming one of your children as Successor Trustee almost always results in conflict and may end up tearing your family apart.

One child as Successor Trustee

There are occasions when putting one child in charge of the money and property that their siblings will receive works out well and everyone stays friendly. Generally, in these cases the siblings

  • were all the product of the same long-term marriage,
  • were all very close before their parent’s death,
  • were all aware of the parent’s estate plan before the death,
  • were all similarly situated financially before the inheritance,
  • lived close enough to each other to split any sentimental items among themselves while all siblings were present,
  • pretty much equally shared the burden of care-taking for the deceased parent,
  • had no addiction or gambling problems in their families,
  • didn’t allow their spouses or adult children to have a say in the probate or trust administration process, and
  • the Successor Trustee’s only job was settling the estate and dividing up the assets equally for immediate outright distribution to all the siblings.

If this sounds like your situation, then naming your child as Successor Trustee may work out just fine.

Multiple children as Co-Successor Trustees

Some folks think naming all or a couple of their children as Co-Successor Trustees will prevent conflict. It won’t. In fact, it can even be worse than naming only one child as Successor Trustee because now two or more people have to agree on everything and sign all the necessary paperwork. Banks and financial institutions hate co-anythings because all it does is slow down any process and open the door for conflicts and lawsuits.

So what’s the solution?

Name a disinterested party. Someone who has no skin in the game. Someone who has no close personal relationships with any one child and will not be inheriting anything from you. It can be a friend, your sibling, your accountant or estate planning attorney, or other professional fiduciary. If your trust will last more than a few years, consider naming a bank or trust company.

What was that? You don’t want to pay someone to manage your trust? Seriously? You’d rather tear your family apart and have litigation attorneys receive the bulk of your children’s inheritance? You can certainly make that choice.

Whatever you decide to do, TALK TO YOUR FAMILY! Explain why you’re naming one child as Successor Trustee, or leaving more money to the caretaker child, or appointing a disinterested party, or disinheriting a child or grandchild. If you’re not comfortable doing it by yourself, ask your estate planning attorney to help you arrange a family meeting in person or by teleconference. It’s not an easy conversation, but it just may keep your family together after you’re gone.

Tom Petty’s Heirs Battle Over His Estate

Tom Petty's Wildflowers album
Tom Petty’s Wildflowers album is part of the estate dispute.

Rocker Tom Petty was wise enough to execute a revocable living trust before his unexpected death in 2017, but his heirs are now arguing over some of the wording in the trust.

Tom Petty’s widow and sole successor trustee of his trust, Dana York Petty, planned to include unreleased tracks from her late husband’s celebrated 1994 solo album, Wildflowers, as part of a 25th anniversary edition box set.

However, Tom’s daughters Adria and Annakim, his children from a previous marriage, have blocked the release, according to iHeartRadio’s article, “Tom Petty’s Widow, Daughters Battling Over His Estate.”

Dana says the daughters are interfering with her ability to manage Tom’s legacy. She’s reportedly requested that a judge name a day-to-day manager for the estate.

Adria argues that she and her sister were promised an equal share of control in their father’s estate, according to his will. She says her father’s “artistic property” was supposed to be placed into a separate company to be jointly administered by the three women. However, Dana disagrees with Adria’s interpretation of the term “equal representation.”

Annakim seems to reference the battle in a recent Instagram post. She displayed a photo of her father with the caption, “We don’t sell out. No Vampires 2019.”

A subsequent reply in the comments section mentions Petty’s will.

Wildflowers was initially designed to be a double album, with Petty completing more than 25 songs in the initial sessions. However, he was convinced by his record label to take some some songs off for the final version.

Throughout the years, a few of the extra songs were released on various collections. However, Tom never relinquished his idea of releasing the set as a double LP.

Petty was reportedly planning a Wildflowers tour, before his death in October of 2017, to showcase all the leftover material.

Reference: iHeartRadio (April 3, 2019) “Tom Petty’s Widow, Daughters Battling Over His Estate”

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