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The Estate Battle of Benihana Founder Finally Settled – Four Years Later

By September 8, 2012Celebrity Estates

Benihana, a Japanese teppanyaki restaurant known for its flashy and mesmerizing tableside theatrics was founded by Hiroaki “Rocky” Aoki back in 1964 and has since become a well-known, successful chain restaurant.  Mr. Aoki passed away from pneumonia back in 2008 at the age of 70 and had also been suffering from diabetes, Hepatitis C and Cirrhosis of the liver.

Due to Aoki’s unusual and complicated style of living, the administration of his estate has been a complicated and lengthy process.  Aoki’s children have been battling with their father’s third wife, Keiko Aoki, for their father’s estate.  The children claim that Keiko put undue influence on Aoki to turn him against his children.  The children allege that their father was in a vulnerable mental state due to illness and medication side effects and was susceptible to Keiko’s influence.  This claim has been pursued most strongly because Aoki changed his will before his death, leaving 25% of his assets to Keiko with the remaining 75% going into a trust for her to distribute to his children at her sole discretion.

In 2006, Aoki stated that the changes were done with the intent that it would bring his children and his current wife closer together.  He hoped that they would finally accept her if they knew she was in charge of their inheritance.  However, the changes did not have the desired effect, instead driving the children and Keiko further apart.  Later, Aoki would sue four of his children for mishandling the Benihana business.  Interestingly, these four children are the same four that have been challenging his will.

The New York appeals court ruled unanimously in Keiko’s favor, honoring the wishes in the last Will created by Aoki.  The court found no signs or coercion from Keiko to Aoki, nor did they feel that he lacked the capacity to sign his Will according to his own wishes.  This decision has come after four years of court battles – one of the important reasons we encourage everyone to create a Living Trust, to avoid such lengthy proceedings.

Aoki’s situation was especially complicated and would have been far better served with a Living Trust as opposed to only a Will – which is a public document and does not provide the important privacy that a Trust does.  Aoki had three children with his first wife, Chizuru.  After getting in a serious boating accident in 1979, Chizuru met her husband’s mistress, Pamela, while at the hospital with her unconscious husband.  With his secret affair being discovered, Aoki divorced Chizuru and married Pamela.  Pamela gave Aoki three more children.  Aoki was later sued for paternity by another woman, discovering that he had a seventh child.  He was known to brag that he had “three kids from three different women at exactly the same time.”

Considering the unusual nature of Aoki’s family construction and the large size of his estate and business assets, a Living Trust should have been created, along with additional advanced estate planning documents.  However, regardless of your personal situation, a Living Trust is most often the best choice to plan for the distribution of your estate.  To schedule a free consultation with an estate planning attorney, call us today at 888.222.1328.

What the Attorneys of Morris Hall Can Do For You:
The attorneys at Morris Hall have 100’s of years of combined experience ensuring that families’ assets are protected from probate, unnecessary taxes, creditors, ex-spouses and Medicaid spend-down.  The attorneys also help those in Arizona and New Mexico to apply for and receive Medicaid assistance and Veterans Benefits.  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.

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