While it isn’t rare to hear of wills that leave directions for everything from pets to football tickets, some wills contain even more unusual will provisions. For the most part, anything you want to put in a will can be enforced as long as it is legal. But some provisions may be contested by other heirs to determine whether it is valid. That is what happened recently with the will of a millionaire who made his money on the dance floor.
Milton Grant hosted a show in Washington, D.C., in the 1950s, similar to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. After the show ended in 1961, Grant stayed in the entertainment industry, founding a communications company and buying television stations across the country, some of which his company still owns. At the time of his death in 2007, his estate was worth about $58 million.
Grant’s family life has taken a few turns. He had a wife named Shirley and had two daughters with her. They were still married when he died, but had lived apart for over 50 years. He then lived with a girlfriend, Tommy Jo Price, until he died. The two had a son together named Thomas. Price died about a year after Grant’s death.
Grant include will provisions for Thomas, his son with Price, stating his intention that Thomas continue to be employed with his television companies with an annual salary of at least $125,000, to be adjusted annually for cost of living increases. The personal representative of Grant’s estate contested this provision on the grounds that will provisions like this were not appropriate and should have been done in an employment agreement instead.
A major argument made by the personal representative was that Grant’s corporation was run by officers and directors and that requiring them to enforce this provision thwarted their ability to manage the companies in the best interest of the shareholders. The court found that since the personal representative was given the right to operate and manage the companies, including the right to discharge employees, the will could not direct them to retain Thomas if it violated their fiduciary obligations. The court also noted that Grant had executed a codicil after the will with the employment provision for Thomas, giving his business partner the ability to make business decisions after Grant’s death. Because the codicil came later and conflicted with the provision in the will, the court found that the codicil trumped the will provisions for Thomas.
While an employment agreement might have been a better way to ensure that his son had gainful employment with the family business after his death, it is still possible that these will provisions could have held up in court. With an estate of this size, which also includes business operations, it was probably inevitable that at least some part of the will would be contested. The case is a good example of how an estate plan can become a tangled web with codicils and other directions that do not necessarily work well with the rest of the plan. Perhaps, with the assistance of an estate planning attorney who had the big picture, Thomas’ right to employment could have been affirmed with more carefully drafted will provisions.
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