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Walt Disney’s Family Feud Show Common Issues in Estate Planning

Currently there is a feud going on involving two of Walt Disney’s grandchildren and their share of the huge Disney fortune. Walt Disney died in 1966 leaving two daughters and 10 grandchildren. One of his daughters Sharon Disney had married and then divorced a real estate developer named Bill Lund who located and assisted in the purchase of the land which became the Disney World site. Sharon and Bill had two children Michelle and Brad. Sharon created an estate plan to leave her share of the Disney fortune to her two children from her marriage to Bill and one child from a previous relationship. She made her ex-husband as one of the four co-trustees of the childrens’ trusts. The trustees were to determine whether the three children were competent to receive the monetary distributions at ages 35, 40, and 45 and the yearly payments of income. The disbursements were approximately $20 million per child every five years.

To complicate everything, Sharon then died and her ex-husband remarried. Then in 2009 Michelle, Sharon and Bills’ daughter, suffered an aneurysm and her father began caring for her as the trustee of her trust. Family members sued in court to remove Bill claiming that he was trying to isolate her from family and friends and take over her estate. As time went on, the other co-trustees of Michelle’s trust also filed petitions in the probate court to remove Bill as a co-trustee. Eventually Bill agreed to resign as trustee in exchange for significant yearly payments.

The drama continues over the Disney fortune because Brad, the son of Sharon, is developmentally disabled and needs a conservator to manage his affairs. Michelle, his sister, does not believe that her father Bill and his new wife should be managing Brad’s estate. The huge attorneys fees are draining the estate.

Such family feuds that are occurring in the Disney family occur even in non-wealthy families. What this illustrates is that even with careful estate planning, there can be court battles. Beneficiaries file petitions to remove a trustee for not doing his job properly. Family members disagree as to who should be the conservator of a developmentally disabled beneficiary or a beneficiary who is incapacitated.

The attorneys at Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation handle all of the issues that are involved in the Disney estate: conservatorships, representation of beneficiaries, trust litigation including petitions to remove an existing trustee, and other estate planning issues that are involved when beneficiaries disagree about the trust distributions. If you need assistance, we always offer complimentary consultations on any estate planning issue.

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