Notable Cases

The Larry Hillblom Story
Howard Hughes’ Billions
The Washington Redskins
The Johnson and Johnson Fortune
Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce
Grungy River Rat
He Did It, “His Way.”
Late Guru’s Detractors Lay Claim to His Millions

Larry Hillblom graduated from Boalt Hall Law School in 1969. Instead of practicing law he co-founded the DHL (“H” for Hillblom) international freight company.

In time Larry bought out “D” and “L” and became the sole owner of DHL, which became and remains the largest international fast freight delivery company. For tax reasons and to enjoy life, Larry bought an island in Saipan and relocated there to pursue his interests. He traveled to the Philippines, Thailand, and other sites in the South Pacific. For sport, he would hire the sexual services of young “certified” virgins. Over time he fathered a number of children.
In 1994, Larry was killed in an accident in his World War II vintage “Sea Bee” sea plane. Hillblom’s decade old will ordered most of his estate dedicated to medical research at UCSF. But under US law (enforced in Saipan), legitimate heirs can share in an estate unless specifically written out of the will. Various women soon came forward from the islands, pressing their claims for the inheritance rights of their children. Though Larry’s body was never found, DNA “sibling” testing proved that four of the eight suitors were siblings and thus likely children of Hillblom. The four children who proved their paternity each received approximately $90 million apiece. UCSF then received the remainder of the estate, nearly $240 million.

Recluse Howard Hughes death in 1976, with no discoverable will, triggered a bitter struggle by thousands of people to claim his $2 billion fortune. (later shown to be in excess of $6 billion) Two powerful groups led the contenders. On one side was Will Lummis, a cousin of the billionaire, along with twenty other cousins claiming legal heirship, while on the other side were the people, led by Chester Davis, who had managed the empire of Howard Hughes for the last six years of his life.

True ownership of the estate was unknown nor was it clear where the estate should be properly probated, what it was worth or what its debts were. Matters were further complicated by numerous forged wills; a $50 million law suit launched by Lummis against Chester Davis and other aides of Hughes accusing them of manipulating a sick Hughes to further their personal interests; accusations that Lummis law firm had lost or destroyed the Hughes will; claims by various girlfriends and deeply unresolved federal and state inheritance tax issues.

Both Texas and California claimed Howard Hughes as their own resident which resulted in years of litigation that went several times to the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue was finally resolved with Texas receiving $50 million and California receiving $119 million.

In 1983, after seven years of litigation, the heirs at law, led by Will Lummis, finally received the first of their inheritance from the estate.

Thirteen weeks before his death in January 1997, Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Washington Redskins Football Franchise, executed the eighth codicil to his 1988 will. The codicil eliminated all bequests to his wife Marlene Ramallo Cooke, a Bolivian national.

When offered for probate to the Fauquier County Circuit Court in Virginia, the will as modified by the eight codicils purported to make various bequests to children, grandchildren and friends and to leave the bulk of the $500 million to $800 million estate to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. The charitable purpose of the foundation was to provide scholarships for gifted and underprivileged children.

Named in the will as executors of the estate were son John Kent Cooke and six employees of the decedent. Son John Kent Cooke passionately desired to control the team but with the bulk of the estate passing to charity under the will his control was in question unless he brought in outside investors.

Surviving spouse Marlene Ramallo Cooke had several legal options. She could contest the validity of the will, suggesting that the testator was not of sound mind when he prepared the last codicil. Or she could file to take a one-third statutory share against the will. Under Virginia law a spouse normally can choose between a one-third statutory share or the bequest given in the will of the deceased spouse. Here, however, the widow had executed a prenuptial agreement relinquishing her right to take the statutory share. Marlene would have to argue, as she did, that the prenuptial agreement was invalid because she was coerced to sign it shortly before her marriage. Her position was weakened considerably when the Attorney General of Virginia intervened in the Circuit Court on behalf of the Foundation and its beneficiaries: students, orphans and children abandoned by their parents. The AG maintained that Marlene Cooke’s attempt to undermine the prenuptial agreement was not well founded; she had signed it of her free will and she should be bound by it.

A very nasty battle, with dirty family secrets being aired on both sides, was averted one week before the date set for trial by a settlement between the estate and Marlene Cooke. Marlene received $20 million and the will was to be admitted to probate, thereby resulting in the creation of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation which will dispose of the Washington Redskins football franchise and carry out the charitable intent of its founder.

At age seventy-six Seward Johnson married 34 year old Basia Piasecka, the former chambermaid at the Johnson estate in Oldwisk, New Jersey. Johnson, paternalistic chairman of the Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical company founded by his grandfather, lived sumptuously for his remaining years with his young wife.

On Johnson’s death the bulk of the estate was to pass to his wife and nothing to his six children by his prior two wives. The litigation brought by the children claimed that Basia had exercised undue influence in the preparation of the estate plan.

After an extended trial but before the jury returned its verdict this estate was split up among the parties by settlement. No one was willing to risk waiting for the jury verdict which would have given victory to some, and defeat to others. By settling, no one won, but no one lost.

“A poor settlement is better than a trial.” — Judge Marie M. Lambert

from Bleak House,
by Charles Dickens

from Chapter 1

Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. The scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least; but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes, without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant, who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled, has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps, since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the Court, perennially hopeless.

Jarndyce and Jarndyce has passed into a joke. That is the only good that has ever come of it. It has been death to many, but it is a joke in the profession. Every master in Chancery has had a reference out of it. Every Chancellor was in it, for somebody or other, when he was counsel at the bar. Good things have been said about it by blue-nosed, bulbous-shoed old benchers, in select port-wine committee after dinner in hall. Articled clerks have been in the habit of fleshing their legal wit upon it. The last Lord Chancellor handled it neatly, when, correcting Mr. Blowers the eminent silk gown who said that such a thing might happen when the sky rained potatoes, he observed, or when we get through Jarndyce and Jarndyce, Mr. Blowers; a pleasantry that particularly tickled the maces, bags, and purses.

from Chapter 65

We asked a gentleman by us, if he knew what cause was on? He told us Jarndyce and Jarndyce. We asked him if he knew what was doing in it? He said, really no he did not, nobody ever did; but as well as he could make out, it was over. Over for the day? we asked him. No, he said; over for good.

Over for good!

When we heard this unaccountable answer, we looked at one another quite lost in amazement. Could it be possible that the Will had set things right at last, and that Richard and Ada were going to be rich? It seemed too good to be true. Alas it was!

Our suspense was short; for a break up soon took place in the crowd, and the people came streaming out looking flushed and hot, and bringing a quantity of bad air with them. Still they were all exceedingly amused, and were more like people coming out from a Farce or a Juggler than from a court of Justice. We stood aside, watching for any countenance we knew; and presently great bundles of papers began to be carried out, bundled in bags, bundles too large to be got into any bags, immense masses of papers of all shapes and no shapes, which the bearers staggered under, and threw down for the time being, anyhow, on the Hall pavement, while they went back to bring out more. Even these clerks were laughing. We glanced at the papers, and seeing Jarndyce and Jarndyce everywhere, asked an official-looking person who was standing in the midst of them, whether the cause was over. “Yes,” he said, “it was all up with it at last!” and burst out laughing too.

At this juncture, we perceived Mr. Kenge coming out of court with an affable dignity upon him, listening to Mr. Vholes, who was deferential, and carried his own bag. Mr. Vholes was the first to see us. “Here is Miss Summerson, sir,” he said. “And Mr. Woodcourt.”

“0 indeed! Yes. Truly!” said Mr. Kenge, raising his hat to me with polished politeness. “How do you do? Glad to see you. Mr. Jarndyce is not here?”

“No. He never came there,” I reminded him.

“Really,” returned Mr. Kenge, “it is as well that he is not here today, for his, shall I say, in my good friend’s absence, his indomitable singularity of opinion might have been strengthened, perhaps; not reasonably, but might have been strengthened.”

“Pray what has been done to-day?” asked Allan.

“I beg your pardon?” said Mr. Kenge, with excessive urbanity.

“What has been done to-day?”

“What has been done,” repeated Mr. Kenge. “Quite so. Yes. Why, not much has been done; not much. We have been checked ,brought up suddenly, I would say, upon the, shall I term it threshold?”

“Is this Will considered a genuine document, sir?” said Allan; “will you tell us that?”

“Most certainly, if I could,” said Mr. Kenge; “but we have not gone into that, we have not gone into that.”

“We have not gone into that,” repeated Mr. Vholes, as if his low inward voice were an echo.

“You are to reflect, Mr. Woodcourt,” observed Mr. Kenge, using his silver trowel, persuasively and smoothingly, “that this has been a great cause, that this has been a protracted cause, that this has been a complex cause. Jarndyce and Jarndyce has been termed, not inaptly, a Monument of Chancery practice.”

“And Patience has sat upon it a long time,” said Allan.

“Very well indeed, sir,” returned Mr. Kenge, with a certain condescending laugh he had. “Very well! You are further to reflect, Mr. Woodcourt,” becoming dignified to severity, “that on the numerous difficulties, contingencies, masterly fictions, and forms of procedure in this great cause, there has been expended study, ability, eloquence, knowledge, intellect, Mr. Woodcourt, high intellect. For many years, the, a, I would say the flower of the Bar, and the, a, I would presume to add, the matured autumnal fruits of the Woolsack, have been lavished upon Jarndyce and Jarndyce. If the public have the benefit, and if the country have the adornment, of this great Grasp, it must be paid for, in money or moneyís worth, sir.”

“Mr. Kenge,” said Allan, appearing enlightened all in a moment. “Excuse me, our time presses. Do I understand that the whole estate is found to have been absorbed in costs?”

“Hem! I believe so,” returned Mr. Kenge. “Mr. Vholes, what do you say?”

“I believe so,” said Mr. Vholes.

“And that thus the suit lapses and melts away?”

“Probably,” returned Mr. Kenge. “Mr. Vholes?”

“Probably,” said Mr. Vholes.

Steve Arrowsmith lived the life of a penniless whitewater guide in the mountains of Utah. He slept under his poncho and fed his cats with Purina spread over the kitchen floor.

When Arrowsmith died at the age of 30 it was discovered that his will left his $13 million dollar estate to a number of environmental charities. They were totally surprised.

Steve Arrowsmith was himself the heir of a family fortune from his grandmother whose money had come from the founding of the financial firm Dun & Bradstreet. Odd as it may seem, Mr. Arrowsmith had not learned of his family inheritance of $7 million dollars until his college years, by which time he had been estranged from his family for a number of years.

Steve Arrowsmith died at the early age 30 from a severe asthma attack. A year after his premature death, thirteen different charitable groups received distributions, including a group that aids the homeless in Colorado, dyslexic children, the American Rivers, the Fund for Wild Nature, The Colorado Environmental Coalition, and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. The charities were selected by Arrowsmith’s contacts with individuals who were associated with the charities: a person who had helped him with a broken down car and worked at one of the charities, a friend’s mother who volunteered at one of the charities, his own favorite cause, and his favorite pastime (river rafting).

San Francisco Chronicle. June 19, 1998.
From an article by: Jeff Wilson (Associated Press)

Frank Sinatra’s will was admitted to probate on June 18th with no one challenging, as expected.

“Technically, family members would have four months from today to contest the will, but based upon no one appearing and objecting this morning, it looks like a sign that this may proceed without any litigation,” attorney Andrew Garb said after a hearing that lasted about 30 seconds. The will was filed May 21, a week after Sinatra died. The hearing offered family members an opportunity to contest the estimated $6 million will.

The will contained an ironclad clause disinheriting anyone contesting it. Thus, no objections were expected.

“I would have been surprised,” said Garb. “Anyone knows if they want to challenge the will they better succeed, because if they fail they are going to disinherit themselves, completely.”

The will specified that Sinatra’s widow, Barbara, get his homes in Beverly Hills and Malibu, as well as other property, and as much as $3.5 million. Son, Frank Sinatra, Jr. and daughter Tina and Nancy will receive $200,000 each, plus undivided interests in a Beverly Hills office building. The children had already been given rights to much of Sinatra’s lucrative music catalog.

The will also included the establishment of a $1 million trust for his two grand-children.

The bulk of Sinatra’s estate was contained in a living trust, which is not vulnerable to probate and, therefore, does not become a public document.

Sinatra was 82 when he died on May 14 after a heart-attack. He had been ill for more than a year. His will was signed on May 1, 1993. Among his heirs were his first wife and the mother of his children, Nancy Barbato Sinatra, who was left $250,000, a friend Elvina Joubert: $150,000, stepson Robert Marx: $100,000 and friend Dorothy Uhlemann: $50,000.

Frank Sinatra, Jr. was given all of his father’s sheet music.

National/World News : Sunday, March 28, 1999
by Debra West
The New York Times


Frederick P. Lenz III swallowed 150 tablets of Valium and stepped off a dock near his Long Island home on April 12, 1998, leaving behind a collection of mansions, private jets and luxury cars making an estate of $18 million dollars.

Lenz, who called himself Rama and was frequently dubbed the Yuppie Guru, made his fortune through lectures on meditation and computer science that drew hundreds of paying followers, but he was best known for his two spiritual novels, “Surfing the Himalayas” and “Snowboarding to Nirvana” (St. Martin Press, 1995 and 1997).

In his will, he was clear on two points: His family should be disinherited, and all his pets should be destroyed, and his entire estate should go to a foundation to promote his ideas, unless he failed to take “significant steps”. His will created dispute between the National Audubon Society and his estate. This lead to the creation of the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism headed by Lenz’s accountant Norman Marcus and his attorney Norman Oberstein and a donation to the National Audubon Society to settle. Like 550,000 others, Lenz belonged to the Audubon Society. He joined in 1975 and continued his membership off and on until his death. In 1997, he contributed $1,000 to the society.

At the time, the Audubon Society accused and took legal action against Lenz claiming him to be a fraud and that his practice of Buddhism was a sham. Their lawyer Susan Bloom stated, “He lectured about something called ‘American Buddhism’ which, by all accounts, was a belief system consistent with his lavish lifestyle.”

According to the New York Times, the will was contested by Diana Jean Reynolds, who claimed to be Lenz’s widow and Deborah Lenz, whose claim to be Lenz’s widow is based on her view that they had a common law marriage, however both claims were withdrawn and dismissed.

2002 marked the settling of his case, and since then the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism has been involved in creating many grants to approximately 96 American Buddhist organizations. As part of the settlement with Audubon, a gorge was named for Lenz at the Sharon Audubon Center in northwest Connecticut.