Are We Hard Wired to Litigate Over Estates?

Litigate Over Estates

When Billionaires are willing to air their family laundry over inheritances, it makes one reflect on do these people ever have enough money? The Revlon Heiress Ms Perelman is suing her uncle over her grandfather’s will alleging that his son used undue influence to dwindle away an inheritance which may have been as much as $200 million from her ” inheritance”

Revlon heiress Samantha Perelman battles uncle over share of grandfather’s fortune
David Porter, Associated Press | 28/09/13 | Last Updated: 28/09/13 4:44 PM ET
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AP Photo/The Record of Bergen County, Amy Newman, PoolSamantha Perelman looks on during opening arguments in her lawsuit against the Cohen family in Superior Court in Hackensack, N.J.

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HACKENSACK, N.J. — A bitter fight between two of the New York area’s wealthiest families is playing out in the modest trappings of a county courthouse more used to seeing low-level drug offenders and alimony cheats.

On one side is James Cohen, son of the founder of Hudson News, the newsstand operator with stores in airports and train stations across the country. On the other is Cohen’s niece, Samantha Perelman, the 23-year-old daughter of billionaire Revlon Chairman Ronald Perelman.

Samantha Perelman claims her uncle systematically squeezed her out of her grandfather Robert Cohen’s will as he suffered from the debilitating effects of a Parkinson’s-like disease before dying in 2012.

The case figures to turn on whether Perelman’s attorneys can demonstrate to state Superior Court Judge Estela De La Cruz that James Cohen used undue influence to get his father to change his will several times to reduce Perelman’s share.

AP Photo/The Record of Bergen County, Mitsu Yasukawa, PoolJames Cohen is accused of using undue influence to get his father to change his will several times to reduce Samantha Perelman’s share.

Cohen’s attorneys don’t mince words in court filings, calling Perelman’s lawsuit “brazen beyond belief” and the product of “pure gall.” They claim that even under Robert Cohen’s last will, penned in 2009, Samantha Perelman stood to inherit jewelry and real estate worth more than $20 million and insurance policies worth more than $47 million. They also claim her lawsuit is a thinly veiled attempt by Ron Perelman to use his daughter to get control of the Hudson News empire.

“This shameless lawsuit is filled with repackaged claims, and we are confident that the truth will again prevail as it has in every previous iteration of this nuisance litigation,” James Cohen said through a spokeswoman.

Christine Taylor, a spokeswoman for Samantha Perelman, called the accusations regarding Ron Perelman “simply not true.”

“It’s something they feel if they repeat enough times it’ll be true,” she said. “It couldn’t be further from the truth, it has never been the case and it has never been contended that the business should go to Ronald Perelman or Samantha. They would like to make it about Ronald because it’s easier to beat up on a grown-up than a 23-year-old girl.”

‘My mother taught me to stand up for what I believe, and I know she would have been heartbroken by what was done’

James Cohen, who lives in northern New Jersey, began working for Hudson News in 1980, became CEO in 1994 and had always been in line to inherit the business from his father, according to his court filings. He is credited with developing it into a business that sold for $805 million in 2008.

In the 2004 document that Samantha Perelman is seeking to be considered her grandfather’s last valid will, she stood to receive real estate in Palm Beach, Fla., New York City and Englewood; $25 million in cash; $500,000 a year for 10 years; a corporate jet; and other assets totalling about $150 million, according to her court filings. Her attorneys charge that once her mother, gossip columnist Claudia Cohen, died in 2007, James Cohen took control of his father’s estate planning, and the “changes adverse to Claudia and Samantha came repeatedly, relentlessly and secretly.”

Over the next several years, Robert Cohen’s physical condition worsened steadily as he battled progressive supranuclear palsy, a disorder that attacks muscular control and ultimately left him unable to walk, speak or care for himself, according to court papers.

AP Photo/The Record, Elizabeth LaraSamantha Perelman listens to witness testimony in superior court in Hackensack, NJ in a lawsuit against the Cohen family.

In a previous trial, also in Hackensack, a different Superior Court judge ruled against the Perelmans and concluded that Robert Cohen was “fundamentally sound” in his thinking and legally allowed to make a new will. Under the law, however, a person can still be unduly influenced in the making of a will even if he or she is considered to have mental capacity, both sides said.

Samantha Perelman graduated recently from the University of Pennsylvania and is pursuing an MBA at Columbia University. Court papers revealed that her grandfather referred to her as “Little Cupcake.” She is expected to testify next week.

“My mother always taught me to stand up for what I believe, and I know she would have been heartbroken by what was done in connection with her father’s will,” Samantha Perelman said in an emailed statement. “This is my case and I intend to make sure my grandfather’s true intentions are carried out.”

The Associated Press

Trevor Todd

Trevor Todd is one of the province’s most esteemed estate litigation lawyers. He has spent more than 40 years helping the disinherited contest wills and transfers – and win. From his Kerrisdale office, which looks more like an eclectic art gallery than a lawyer’s office, Trevor empowers claimants and restores dignity to families across BC. He is a mentor to young entrepreneurs and an art buff who supports starving artists the world over. He has an eye for talent and a heart for giving back.

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