Actress Elizabeth Hurley and her son, Damian Hurley, recently prevailed in a California legal battle over Damian’s inheritance from his billionaire grandfather. As it happens, Hurley and another woman, both had children (Damian and Kira) with the late Stephen Bing, whose father, Dr. Peter Bing, has an estimated $2 billion fortune. A fortune he didn’t want to share with his two grandchildren as they were both born out of wedlock. This seems very old world to me….
Grandpa Bing argued that his 1980 trust was for the benefit of his future grandchildren who were born or adopted at a young age by his children and “raised by [his] children as part of their families.” He went on to state that he never even met Damian or Kira, and that neither lived with Steve as children. He also claimed that Steve has never even met Damian. In short, Grandpa Bing argued that he never considered either of them as his trust beneficiaries.
Too bad, so sad, said the California Judge Daniel Juarez (not in so many words). The Court actually held that “[t]here is no ambiguity in the Trusts’ use of the term ‘grandchild,’” and Grandpa Bing’s restrictive interpretation is unreasonable. The 2 grandchildren are in as trust beneficiaries.
So, how would this playout in the Florida Courts? What are the Florida rules regarding children born out of wedlock?
We first need to separate intestate (without a will) from testate (with a will). F.S. 732.108(2) provides several options to show paternity for intestate situations. However, since paternity actions are now time barred in probate, DNA evidence doesn’t help much. The requirement for a parental “written acknowledgement” is usually the best way to show paternity in cases where there was no will or trust.
What about in a trust or last will and testament? A typical trust or last will identifies the children (or grandchildren) that are included and excluded. We typically also have a section to define the terms “child, children, grandchild, and grandchildren” and “descendants”. We can be as inclusive or exclusive as desirable; the definition can include or exclude any grouping of lineage. These definitions are one of the many benefits of a well-executed estate plan.
To be fair, we would have to see the exact wording of Grandpa Bing’s trust to know how a Florida Court would handle their family dispute as the definition of “grandchildren” (or lack thereof) is key.
As for the Bings, the love grandchildren prevailed, and each will stand to receive their $250 million inheritance. And we learn that a well drafted estate plan addresses definitions and can avoid confusion and most importantly litigation.