Friday, June 18, 2010
Pampered chihuahua inherits millions
Her name is Conchita, a thin, spa-loving, diamond-draped heiress, and she's at the center of one of America's nastiest estate battles.
She is also a dog -- a chihuahua who was the favorite of the late Miami heiress Gail Posner, a daughter of the corporate takeover artist Victor Posner.
When Ms. Posner died in March at age 67, Conchita and two other dogs inherited the right to live in her seven-bedroom, $8.3 million Miami Beach mansion, their comfort ensured by a $3 million trust fund.
The canines weren't the only ones who benefited from Ms. Posner's munificence. Seven of her bodyguards, housekeepers and other personal aides were left a total of $26 million under her will, and some also were allowed to live, rent-free, in the mansion to care for the dogs.
Now, in an attempt to revoke the will, Ms. Posner's only living child, Bret Carr, has filed a lawsuit against a bevy of his mother's former staff members and advisers alleging a dark intrigue.
Household aides, he claims, drugged his sick mother with pain medications and conspired to steal her assets by inducing her to change her will and trust arrangements in 2008. Others, including his mother's trust attorney, he alleges, used their influence to bend her wishes. Mr. Carr, who was bequeathed a relatively paltry $1 million in his mother's will, makes the claims in a lawsuit filed last week in probate court in Miami-Dade County.
Among Mr. Carr's claims is that the aides directed a "deeply disturbed" Ms. Posner to hire a publicist to promote Conchita as "one of the world's most spoiled dogs" -- complete with a four-season wardrobe, full-time staff and diamond jewelry. Mr. Carr's lawyer, Bruce Katzen, says he believes the publicity campaign was part of a "ruse" to explain why a large trust fund was needed to care for the dogs.
It's too early to predict the outcome of the case. But Ray Madoff, a Boston College law professor and co-author of an estate-planning guide, says wills that leave little or nothing to legitimate heirs but millions to caretakers are usually thrown out by courts, as likely to have been written with "undue influence" by the caretakers.
The case has echoes of the late Leona Helmsley. In 2007, the New York real estate magnate left a $12 million trust fund to Trouble, her pet Maltese. A judge later cut that down to $2 million and directed the rest go to charity. Under the terms of Ms. Posner's trust, the mansion is to be sold after her dogs die, and the proceeds donated to charity.
But the Posner dispute has a grimmer backdrop. The clan has long been haunted by drug and alcohol addiction, claims of sexual abuse allegedly committed by Victor Posner and prior legal battles over the spoils of Mr. Posner's 1980s-era checkered career.
A master of the hostile takeover who became one of America's highest-paid executives, Mr. Posner pleaded no contest to tax evasion charges in 1987 and was later barred from involvement with public companies.
Mr. Carr, a Hollywood screenwriter and filmmaker, has his own troubled past. He was arrested in 1992, charged with counterfeiting traveler's checks. He received probation, and told The Wall Street Journal in 1994 that his grandfather severed all contact with him after the incident.
Mr. Carr also names as a defendant BNY Mellon, which helped oversee a trust that Mr. Posner established for his daughter in 1965. According to the complaint, the trust at one point was worth more than $100 million. It was terminated in 2008 and its remaining assets distributed to Ms. Posner.
A BNY Mellon spokeswoman said the bank "acted appropriately" as trustee, and plans to "vigorously defend" against the lawsuit. Martin Rosen, an attorney who was a trustee for the trust until shortly after Victor Posner's death in 2002, said that it held "in the area of $6 million" when he left his post and "never had $100 million or anything like it."
Mr. Carr's relationship with his mother is portrayed in the lawsuit as rocky, but he says they had a close relationship during "the sober phases of her life." He also says she variously told him that he would inherit her entire estate; half of her inheritance from Victor Posner; and a house next door to hers, also owned by the family.
According to the complaint, Ms. Posner had a "long history of paranoia" and was concerned about her security. She eventually hired several bodyguards. The lawsuit contends that these people, along with other domestic staff, allegedly conspired to isolate Ms. Posner from family members, proceeding to "brainwash" her into believing her son was out to kill her and only the staff could be trusted.
Ms. Posner allegedly told her son she was "being kidnapped by the staff who was trying to kill her."
Around this same period, Ms. Posner began publicizing her pampered pooch. In an interview with the Miami Herald in 2007, she said the dog's most precious possession was a Cartier necklace worth $15,000, but the dog choked on it and was refusing to wear it.
"Conchita is the only girl I know who doesn't consider diamonds her best friend," Ms. Posner was quoted as saying.
In a 2009 interview with a blogger for browardpalmbeach.com, Ms. Posner said Conchita typically accompanied her on lunch dates and then shopping. Ms. Posner said she at one point considered getting the dog her own Range Rover, for transportation to the animal's weekly spa appointments for manicures and pedicures, but Ms. Posner decided to get herself a new car and gave the dog her gold Cadillac Escalade, she told the blogger.
In 2008, already sick with cancer, Ms. Posner executed a new will and trust agreement, overseen by a New York lawyer, Sanford Schlesinger, who is named a defendant in the suit. Under the new arrangement, according to the lawsuit, Ms. Posner left $10 million to one bodyguard, $5 million to another and $2 million to a personal trainer.
A housekeeper and personal assistant, Queen Elizabeth Beckford, would receive $5 million if she agreed to care for Conchita and two other dogs, April Maria and Lucia, at the mansion "with the same degree of care" they received while Ms. Posner was alive, according to the trust established to distribute Ms. Posner's assets. Ms. Beckford also was given permission to live, rent-free, in Ms. Posner's Miami Beach mansion, along with her mother. Ms. Beckford's daughter, another assistant, received $1 million.
Reached at the Miami Beach mansion, Ms. Beckford declined to comment, saying "everything is confidential" before hanging up. Hernando Quintero, the bodyguard who inherited $10 million, could not be reached for comment. Orion Sewell, who was bequeathed $5 million, declined to comment.
An attorney representing Mr. Schlesinger and Gail Posner's trust declined to comment.
Ms. Posner left the remainder of her estate to charity, with one-quarter directed to animal shelters and the rest to breast cancer and suicide-prevention causes. She also left another request: that the canine-care staff also look after her pet turtles.
-- James Oberman contributed to this article.