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Ice cream heiress' estate dispute gets cold shoulder in Florida

West Palm Beach readers may take interest in the ongoing saga of Pamela Carvel, niece to the founders of the popular Carvel ice cream franchise, and a 17-year-long battle over the assets of the franchise founders. The founder and his wife executed identical wills that placed their assets in trust for the benefit of the surviving spouse. Upon the death of the surviving spouse, the wills directed that any residual assets be given to a charitable foundation established by the testators. According to the terms of the wills, the niece was designated to receive a one-time bequest of $20,000.

The founder's will appointed the niece to serve as one of six executors of his probate estate and as a co-trustee of the spousal support trust. A few years before her death in 1998, the founder's wife moved to live with the niece in London. Around that time, the niece transferred over $2 million from her uncle's estate into a joint London account without giving notice to the other co-executors.

In the same year, a Palm Beach probate court awarded the niece limited guardianship over the wife's property and, apparently, the wife executed a new will. The new will withdrew the original bequest to the charitable foundation and gave it instead to a corporation that some court records describe as under the apparent control of the niece. After the wife died, the niece moved quickly to pass the new will through probate in London. The charitable foundation responded with lawsuits in London and in three U.S. states, including Florida.

After nearly a dozen years of litigation, including bizarre maneuvers such as the niece's petition to have her uncle's body exhumed and tested for poisoning, the niece's estate claims were dismissed in 2010 and she was prohibited from filing any new claims.

The most recent twist in the ice cream saga involved a bankruptcy filing described by some as an attempt to circumvent the prohibition against further estate litigation. That ploy appears to have failed miserably, and the niece's whereabouts are unknown. A warrant has been issued for her arrest.

Source: The Miami Herald, "Lawsuits fly amid legal war over ice cream fortune," Dan Christensen, July 20, 2012

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