State attorney general opposes Abigail Kawananakoa trust changes
In a court filing last week, Russell Suzuki argues the trust amendment is too complex and, therefore, invalid based on First Circuit Court Judge R. Mark Browning’s ruling that the Campbell Estate heiress lacks the mental capacity to consider such a move.
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The state attorney general is opposing a change made to Abigail Kawananakoa’s trust that
ensures her wife will receive
$40 million and all of her personal property.
In a court filing last week,
Russell Suzuki argues the trust amendment is too complex and, therefore, invalid based on First Circuit Court Judge R. Mark Browning’s ruling that the Campbell Estate heiress lacks the mental capacity to consider such a move.
Kawananakoa’s lawyers are seeking Browning’s approval for several changes, which also include distribution of her horse-
breeding shares, personal residence and properties owned by the Kawananakoa trust to the heiress’s wife, Veronica Gail Worth.
There are several other significant changes to the revocable living trust, including the addition of new beneficiaries, the removal of former servants as beneficiaries and a distribution to a new, unnamed charitable foundation.
A court hearing on the validity of the amendment will be held Feb. 21.
In September, Browning ruled the 92-year-old Kawananakoa is incapable of making complex changes to the trust or of being able to revoke her trust or even fire and replace its trustee.
A fight over control of the $215 million estate erupted in 2017 after Kawananakoa suffered a stroke. Browning granted James Wright, the successor trustee, control of the estate after doctors indicated the heiress was incapacitated. The move was challenged in court by Worth, who attempted to bring control back to Kawananakoa, saying she had recovered from the stroke.
At least half of the estate was expected to underwrite the Abigail K.K. Kawananakoa Foundation, which was set up by Kawananakoa to become a charity to fund Native Hawaiian causes following her death.
The amended trust indicates Kawananakoa wants to create a new foundation to benefit Hawaiians and exclude the three board members appointed by Wright: Oswald Stender, Jan Dill and Lilikala Kame‘eleihiwa.
“I will not contribute any further assets to that foundation because I do not want those individuals having anything to do with my trust, my estate, and any charitable gifts I make during my lifetime or at my passing,” she said in the trust amendment.
In his filing, the attorney general says the state represents the public interest in the protection of the trust’s charitable assets. The proposed changes are too complex and will substantially alter the estate plan Kawananakoa executed before her capacity became an issue, according to Suzuki’s filing.
They also could significantly impact the benefits earmarked for Native Hawaiian causes in the previous version of the trust, the filing said.
Additionally, Suzuki said he believes a power of attorney executed in September 2017 authorizing Worth to perform business-related transactions for Kawananakoa should be invalidated.
“Ms. Worth should not be permitted, as attorney-in-
fact, to amend a long-standing estate plan to provide herself with a sizable distribution of the trust,” the filing says.
Kawananakoa’s attorney, Michael Lilly, declined to comment on the attorney general’s arguments, citing the judge’s ban on talking to the press.
Rosanne Goo, a Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. attorney who represents the current foundation, described the amendment as “an inappropriate attempt at a second crack” to change Kawananakoa’s estate plan.
“It shows blatant disregard for the court’s ruling,” she said.
“I’m glad to see the attorney general come forward so strongly. I believe the judge will too,” he said.
Goo and Wright said they are especially concerned about artifacts the amended trust says would be given to Worth. They include a key to King Kalakaua’s crypt and two calabashes that were 50th birthday gifts to the monarch.
Wright said Kawananakoa’s life’s work for Hawaiian cultural preservation “is being undone and her legacy is in danger of being destroyed.”
“I believe that the community — especially Hawaiians — understand precisely what’s being attempted. Her strength has ebbed but her kuleana is unchanged,” he said.
The current foundation is asking the judge to appoint a guardian for Kawananakoa.