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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Fight over estate may be at an end

Court battles over a frozen food magnate's estate that spanned from Minnesota to Florida over a period of 5 years and cost millions of dollars may be at an end. Heirs and beneficiaries fighting over Jeno and Lois Paulucci's estate may have reached a potential settlement that could end this litigation.

The Pauluccis' business was once based in Duluth. Their fortune was amassed from frozen food products such as Chun King and Jeno's Pizza, as well as real estate holdings in Minnesota and Florida. Jeno claimed that his estate was worth approximately $500 million dollars during a 2003 interview.

Jeno died Nov. 24, 2011, when he was 93. His wife, Lois, died four days earlier at age 89. Several weeks before they died, they placed new trustees in control of their trust. This sparked a legal battle citing charges including undue influence and lack of capacity; in total, 37 separate lawsuits have been filed in Minnesota and Florida.

A dwindling trust fund and inheritance from these fights fueled settlement attempts. A Florida judge will rule on the proposal after a March 17 hearing. The settlement will be nullified if it is not approved by the end of March 2019.

Replacement of the two current trustees, which included a Florida Senator, was an issue in the litigation. According to court documents, the settlement will provide for replacement of these trustees. The estate will pay the trustees legal fees and they will receive $1 million each and protection from future lawsuits. The trustees have already received $3.6 million in fees and over $10 million in trust funds have been paid in legal fees over the last five years.

Other issues had prevented a settlement among the family and other trust stakeholders. It is also unclear whether a judge could approve the settlement as drafted and if the current trustees would lodge objections.

Proper drafting of trusts and wills may help prevent this type of legal wrangling. When necessary, an attorney may help protect rights in these disputes.

Source: Duluth News Tribune, "Paulucci heirs look to end battle over estate," Brooks Johnson, March 5, 2017

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