Oleg Cassini, former Hollywood customer and designer, died with an estate valued at approximately $52 million. Unfortunately, due to the large sum of money and mixed family situation, his estate has gone through an extensive probate battle since his death in March of 2006 at age 92.
Cassini was first married to actress Gene Tierney for 11 years, during which time they had two daughters together. The oldest daughter, Antoinette Daria was born mentally handicapped and has been institutionalized. However, their youngest daughter, Christina, has been embroiled in the battle over her portion of her father’s estate for 6 years now.
Why the battle? Well, Cassini’s second wife Marianne Nestor Cassini is unpleased with the results of the probate and is suing her attorneys for malpractice. What happened? When Cassini and Tierney divorced the agreement stated that upon Cassini’s death his estate would be divided equally between his two daughters. However, with a second wife in the picture at the time of his death, matters are altered. Making things more complicated is the fact that Cassini had created a will granting $500,000 to Antoinette Daria, $1 million to Christina and the remainder to his widow. Christina was unhappy with this arrangement and took her case to the courts. She filed that under estate distribution laws she should be entitled to 25% of her father’s assets.
Luckily for Christina, the judge decided that the divorce agreement superseded the will and awarded her with 25% of the estate in the amount of $13 million. After these results, Mrs. Cassini was quick to file a new lawsuit – this time against the attorneys that had represented her in the battle with Christina. Cassini feels that Christina’s claim should have been challenged under the statute of limitations and that the attorney’s failure to do so was negligent and a form of malpractice. What is the sum of the funds she is seeking from this lawsuit? No surprise here – she is asking for $13 million.
It is fairly unusual for a client to sue their own attorneys after a case. One of the major reasons for this is that the individual will have to prove that the attorney was indeed negligent and avoided taking steps that a competent attorney would have taken. They then have to manage to prove that they would have won the case had the attorney not been negligent. These factors make it unlikely that Cassini will win the funds from the attorneys. Also, Christina filed her claim on the estate within one year of her father’s death, making it unlikely that a judge will feel the claim was outside of the statute of limitations.
We hear of and witness these types of situations all too frequently – especially considering that most can be avoided with proper planning. For this very reason we tell our clients to create an estate plan. Had Mr. Cassini taken the time and effort to create a binding estate plan clearly dictating how his trust was to be distributed, this extended battle could have been avoided and his wishes met. However, by getting the court involved, the judge now gets to dictate the decision. Also, if a trust is contested in court, it is far less likely that the judge will go against the wishes created in a trust then with a simple will. A living trust provides far more security and certainty and is an important tool regardless of whether your estate is worth $500,000 or $500 million!
About Morris Hall:At Morris Hall, we have focused our legal practice on estate planning for over 40 years. Along with estate planning, our attorneys help clients and their families with matters of probate, trust administration, wills, power of attorneys, business planning, succession planning, legacy planning, charitable gifting and other important legal aspects. We also have divisions in financial, real estate and accounting to help you incorporate all of your planning together, ensuring that everything works perfectly for your needs and situation. Our Arizona offices are located in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tucson, Prescott, Flagstaff and Arrowhead. Our New Mexico offices are located in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe. Contact us today at 888.222.1328 to schedule an appointment!
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney in your community who can assess the specifics of your situation.