Vermont Author's Heirs Snarled In Estate Battle

by Carter Ruml on February 24, 2010

 At the The Wills, Trusts & Estate Prof Blog, Gerry W. Beyer recently wrote an interesting post on the fiduciary litigation in the estate of the beloved late children’s author and illustrator, Tasha Tudor.  KYEstate$ readers who read to their children, or who were read to as children, may recall some of her titles, including Corgiville Fair (pictured above).  The Tudor Estate Battle has received international coverage, too (see this UK Telegraph article).  In her home and personal life, Tudor made great efforts to mirror the nostalgic rural New England idyll portrayed in her books.  The Telegraph article makes clear that Tudor’s truth was more complex than her fiction.  It is too bad that Louis Auchincloss has passed away, because the Tudor Estate Battle promises to be worth several short stories, if not a novel, before it’s over….

One of the children who was cut out is a lawyer (on the verge of retirement, who will soon have a lot of time on his hands).

The two warring camps of children couldn’t agree on the disposition of their mother’s ashes.  As reported by the Telegraph:

The dispute even got so bad that the siblings could not even agree what to do with their mother’s ashes and a judge divided them in half.

One set was buried by three of the children under a rosebush she loved in her garden, the rest by her eldest son where her precious Pembroke Welsh Corgi dogs already lay.

Thomas Tudor said: “Seth got the ashes, we went outside and he gave us half the ashes, and he went down to his property and scattered or buried the ashes there, and we scattered ours. It was really an unpleasant situation.” [KYEstate$ note: how's that for Calvin Coolidge-style New England laconic reserve?]

The children who were cut out were likely not very surprised.  (Or, at least, they shouldn’t have been.)  As one said to the Telegraph:

Mrs Holmes, who broke off communications in 1996, said her mother had lived in a “fantasy world” and refused to talk about “real life issues.” Speaking last year, Mrs Holmes said: “Some of the last words she said to me were ‘Oh, will there ever be a cat and dogfight when I die. But I don’t care. I won’t be here to see it.’”

So . . . it seems Tudor probably knew what she was doing, even though she was in her 90s.  Nonetheless, the children who were cut out are (predictably) claiming undue influence.

The Tudor Estate Battle is a variant on one of KYEstate$’s Big Themes of estate planning: the family business.  As shown by her “Family Website“, it’s clear that for Tasha Tudor, her unique lifestyle was the family business.  When three of her four children rejected parts of her lifestyle, they rejected both their mother and a role in the family’s business.  In that light, their disinheritance isn’t very surprising.

Would the result would have differed if Tudor ran a bed and breakfast, a real estate development company, or a manufacturing business?  Perhaps so, because the three children might have been able to seek careers outside the family business without Tudor taking the rejection quite so personally.

For estate planners concerned about undue influence claims (whether offensively or defensively), Juan Antunez wrote a very useful post recently about an “undue influence worksheet”.

From a distance, it’s really sad to read about the pain of the Tudor family relating to their mother’s estate.  Now that the Howard Dean campaign has come and gone, things may be rather quiet for Vermont lawyers, and this litigation will keep several of them busy.  But what a shame for the Tudor family.

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