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Probate case playing out in court

A complex case is winding its way through courts in Florida and another state, trying to determine the fate of a food entrepreneur's estate.

On one side of the case stand the adult children of the man and his wife, who also has passed away. They contend that two Florida men manipulated the frail couple into transferring control of $100 million in trusts from two longtime guardians to themselves.

For their part, the new trustees said the couple hired them because the husband and wife believed the Florida-based advisers could better manage their estate. Observers said it is a rare probate litigation case that pits beneficiaries against trustees. Usually, it's the beneficiaries who do battle over estates.

In this case, however, the siblings appear united in trying to do what is best with the estate of the food magnate, known for creating a successful line of canned Chinese products and later frozen dinners. The man died nearly a year ago at age 93 and his 89-year-old wife died four days earlier. They were married for 64 years.

The husband and wife were worth about $100 million when they passed away. While they had established their family trust years ago, just six weeks before they died, they named the new trustees. The children want to fire the trustees and reinstate the original trustees, contending their parents were too ill to make such decisions.

The new advisers said they were hired because the couple wanted impartial trustees far from the corporate base of power in another state. Where the case eventually will be heard -- in Florida or the other state -- is key because of different probate laws between the two states.

The elderly couple worked hard all their lives to put away money for their children and other heirs. It would have been helpful had the couple verbalized to their children, or left behind a notarized document, explaining why they sought to make a change in trustees.

Source: Star Tribune, "Jeno Paulucci money in nasty court dispute," Abby Simons, Oct. 20, 2012

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