Residents in South Florida know that probate litigation can get complicated and sometimes downright unpleasant. But a solid and well-considered estate plan can ease the burden on heirs and beneficiaries, as well as ease the minds of living asset owners. Still, family strains and other factors too often make probate litigation anything but simple, and a prime example of such a situation is a recent case involving the apparent heir to the family fortune of the giant Cargill Corp.
In September 2011, a Broward County judge appointed the mayor of Fort Lauderdale, who is also an attorney, to represent Andrew MacMillan, the apparent heir of the Cargill fortune. For medical and mental health reasons, MacMillan was found to be incompetent to stand trial after being arrested on charges of domestic violence and resisting arrest, so the mayor was appointed as his guardian.
Last year, MacMillan and another attorney (not the guardian) sued MacMillan's mother, alleging that she and others created a dummy email account and dealt in fraudulent emails to divert $3 million from the son's trust fund. That fund amounts to $250 million. The plaintiffs claimed that the money was diverted from "several trusts administered by corporate trustees."
Through her attorneys, the mother has denied the allegations.
Now MacMillan's guardian (the mayor) has said that his ward wants the lawsuit against his mother dismissed. However, according to the mayor, MacMillan's other attorney sent a settlement demand to the mother in the amount of $1.5 million.
Complicating matters is that a Florida probate judge already approved the mother's appointment as MacMillan's limited guardian of his property. But MacMillan's other lawyer -- the one who sent the settlement agreement -- objected to the appointment. The probate judge who approved the limited guardian appointment of the mother struck down the objection from MacMillan's lawyer.
According to the mayor of Fort Lauderdale (MacMillan's guardian), the heir filed an affidavit in August to dismiss with prejudice the lawsuit against his mother. The mayor suggested that MacMillan may have been misled or taken advantage of by his former attorney.
The case illustrates how family disputes and misunderstandings can arise, creating problems in probate. Heirs and families in such cases often benefit from the advice of skilled and sympathetic legal professionals who can help structure an estate plan, trust or other legal document to ensure that all of the specific needs of the parties involved are met.
Source: aspendailynews.com, "Heir to Cargill wants lawsuit against mother in PitCo dismissed," Chad Abraham, Jan. 17, 2012