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Heirs of Walt Disney in extraordinarily ugly trust dispute

Minnesota residents can attest that a family trust can be a good way to ensure a legacy for generations to come. However, a trust can be very difficult to break and trustees can be difficult to remove. When beneficiaries accuse a trustee of self-dealing, failure to pay disbursements or other wrongdoing, the disputes can be intense and very difficult for families.

A long-running dispute among the descendants of Walt Disney shows how ugly these disputes can become.

When Disney's youngest daughter died in 1993, she left $400 million in trusts to her three adult children - an adopted daughter and a twin brother and sister, with instructions to the trustees that the three children were to receive distributions of about $20 million each when they turned 35, 40 and 45. However, she also left instructions that the trustees could withhold the funds if they felt that the children were not mature enough to handle them.

That provision became a sore point when the male descendant failed to receive his distributions when he turned 35 and 40. The trustees said they found him to lack the maturity and cognitive ability to handle the money. At the same time, the trustees did distribute money to the adopted daughter, who was said to have a severe heroin addiction. She died in 2002. The trustees also distributed money to the twin daughter, even after she suffered a brain aneurysm that - at least temporarily - severely limited her cognitive abilities.

The twin son filed suit against the trustees, alleging that the trustees were abusing their fiduciary duties by not distributing money to him. He claimed that the only reason the distributed money to his sister was so that they could act as bankers for her, and so enrich themselves through fees.

Earlier this spring, after an extraordinarily ugly legal battle that included accusations of inappropriate sexual relationships and the hiring of a killer, a court ruled in favor of the trustees, but agreed that their bank should be removed from administering the trust.

Minnesota residents who set up a family trust do so with the hopes that it will help provide for their loved ones for decades to come. However, a lot can happen over the course of decades, for both the trustees and the beneficiaries, and not all of it is good. Minnesota attorneys can help fight to ensure that heirs and beneficiaries are treated fairly.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Walt Disney Family Feud: Inside His Grandkids' Weird, Sad Battle Over a $400 Million Fortune," Eriq Gardner, May 21

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