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Inheritance dispute pits billionaire families against each other

There has been a lot of talk this year about how legalizing same-sex might change the make-up of the typical Minnesota family, but in fact it has been changing for decades. Divorce and remarriage are common, and so are family gatherings that include ex-spouses, children and step children, and various permutations of these relationships in each generation. These relationships can be just as wonderful as more traditional family relationships, but they aren't immune to traditional family arguments. And when these difficulties develop into legal battles, they can become very complicated.

A court was recently scheduled to hear the latest trial in a long-running legal dispute that pits a 23-year-old graduate student against a billionaire's estate. The case involves Samantha Perelman, daughter of Ronald Perelman, who is regularly described as one of the richest men in the world. Samantha's mother, Claudia Cohen, was an heiress of an extremely wealthy family that controlled the Hudson News retail empire.

Ronald and Claudia's marriage ended in divorce, but they remained friends, and Ronald was reportedly very supportive of her when she was diagnosed with cancer. When she died in 2007, Ronald was appointed executor of her estate. Thus began a huge piece of probate litigation in which Ronald charged that the Cohen family had deprived Claudia of her rightful inheritance while she was alive and were attempting to shortchange Samantha in her share of the family's wealth. That case ended with a judge ruling in favor of the Cohens.

The latest case has Samantha filing suit against the Cohens on her own behalf. She claims that her uncle exerted undue influence on her grandfather when he made business decisions that, she said, gave the uncle the lion's share of the Hudson News fortune.

Few Minnesota families have anything like the Perelman and Cohen families' wealth to fight over, but disputes such as this one are not the exclusive territory of the super-rich. Family disputes happen in all types of families, rich or not, traditional or not. Minnesota residents caught up in a disagreement over inheritance should get help understanding their legal rights and options.

Source: NorthJersey.com, "Billionaire Perlman-Cohen family feud returns to N.J. court," Kibret Markos, Sept. 8, 2013

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