When novelist Gore Vidal died in 2012, he left an estate worth an estimated $30 million – not including future royalties from his published works. But within months of his death, distant relatives began fighting over the property he left behind, including a $4 million home in Southern California. Several lawsuits were filed, but, recently, the interested parties settled their dispute.
Vidal amended his trust about a year before his death and left his entire estate to Harvard University. The bequest was puzzling to some since Vidal never attended the school – in fact, he never attended college at all.
The fight pitted Vidal’s half sister and her son against Andrew Auchincloss, the trustee of Vidal’s trust and the son of lawyer and novelist Louis Auchincloss. Vidal’s half sister claimed she had loaned Vidal $1 million to fight a lawsuit brought against Vidal by columnist William F. Buckley, and sought to recover that amount from the estate. She later dropped the lawsuit.
Her son alleged that Vidal had left him the Los Angeles mansion in an earlier trust. He claimed the amendment leaving everything to Harvard was invalid because at the time it was made Vidal was suffering from dementia caused by years of heavy drinking. He also sought unsuccessfully to remove Auchincloss as trustee. Unfortunately, he filed his claim for the house five days past the 60-day court deadline. The terms of the settlement are confidential, but a source has said that the house will go to Harvard because of the missed 60-day filing deadline.
Trust litigation can be complex and challenging for all involved. The court will attempt to carry out the trustor’s wishes whenever possible. But as with wills, it is possible to challenge a trust provision on the grounds the trustor lacked capacity or was subject to undue influence at the time the trust was made or amended.
Source: Washingtonian, “Gore Vidal’s Final Feud,” Kitty Kelley, November 8, 2015