Redstone estate may be subjected to will challenge from magnate’s ex-girlfriend

Sumner Redstone (born May 27, 1923) is an American billionaire and media magnate. Some of the assets owned and/or controlled by him or his family include the National Amusements theater chain, CBS corporation, and Viacom. According to Forbes, he is worth approximately $6.2 billion. The Redstone estate is vast with many assets.

A recent story published in Bloomberg Business online suggests that he is involved in a bitter estate dispute with an ex-girlfriend that appears to be on its way to becoming a will challenge at a future date.

Ms. Manuela Herzer has allegedly filed a lawsuit claiming that Mr. Redstone has lost capacity and  has become incompetent and unable to handle decisions related to his finances and health care. Ms. Herzer is alleging that she was the person appointed by Mr. Redstone under a September 3, 2015 health directive to make decisions for him if he lost capacity and was no longer able to do so himself.

The above dispute appears to have its origins in Mr. Redstone’s decision to kick Ms. Herzer out of his home on October 12, 2015 a mere two months after she had moved in. She is alleging that she was told to leave without being able to talk to Mr. Redstone, and is now seeking a Court ruling that Mr. Redstone lacked capacity to revoke the advance health care directive. Ms. Herzer is also alleging that Mr. Redstone was the victim of “undue influence, fraud and duress” and that he was pressured to kick her out.

Mr. Redstone’s position is that Ms. Herzer is concerned about being removed from his will. The case is currently in California Superior Court, Los Angeles County and none of the allegations have been proven in Court.

The Sumner Redstone estate dispute seems to have many of the characteristics indicative of a future will challenge. The details of the Redstone estate plan are unclear, however given Mr. Redston’s position that Ms. Herzer is only concerned about being removed from his will, it is likely that she is or was a potential beneficiary of the Redstone estate. Mr. Redstone is 92 years old. Ms. Herzer is now alleging that he lacks capacity and that his decision to remove her from his will cannot stand.

This fact pattern is not uncommon, especially when the potential beneficiary stands to receive a large inheritance after the eventual passing of the testator. Last minute will changes may result in bitter estate litigation, especially when a beneficiary is disinherited from the will. If there is any doubt about the testator’s mental capacity (especially given his or her age), the  beneficiary will attempt to invalidate any decisions by the  testator that may have a negative impact on the beneficiary by claiming that the testator lacked testamentary capacity.

The test for testamentary capacity is rooted in a well known  1870  case Banks v. Goodfellow as follows:

“It is essential to the exercise of such a power that a testator shall understand the nature of the act and its effects; shall understand the extent of the property of which he is disposing; shall be able to comprehend and appreciate the claims to which he ought to give effect; and, with a view to the latter object, that no disorder of the mind shall poison his affections, pervert his sense of right, or prevent the exercise of his natural faculties — that no insane delusion shall influence his will in disposing of his property and bring about a disposal of it which, if the mind had been sound, would not have been made.”

The test for testamentary capacity may vary slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but the basic principles described in the Banks case are still followed today.

What is important to understand is that whenever last minute will changes are being made, these should be meticulously documented in a way that protects against litigation and an almost certain will challenge.

For more updates on the Sumner Redstone estate click here.