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When an Estate Challenger Gets Greedy

Estate Litigation Challenge Greed

How much is enough in a multimillion-dollar will? That's the key question for the heirs of New York art patroness Melva Bucksbaum, who died at age 82 last August. Bucksbaum was vice chair of the Whitney Museum's board of trustees and was well-known for her support of the arts, including her own collection that has been valued at approximately $100 million.

In what promises to be large-scale probate litigation, Bucksbaum's husband of 15 years, Raymond Learsy, seems to be biting off more than he can chew. Learsy, 80, is laying claim to a full half of everything his late spouse owned - that could potentially be upwards of $400 million. Yet according to Bucksbaum's will, her husband was already to receive $10 million along with a house worth $30 million, and that's in addition to $14 million in gifts he received from Bucksbaum during their marriage. With some $40 million already in his pocket, Learsy wouldn't seem to be hurting financially, but now he's going for broke by disputing Bucksbaum's will and demanding 50% of all her property and assets.

Not surprisingly, Bucksbaum's children aren't pleased by Learsy's ambitious - one might even say audacious - challenge to their late mother's estate. Bucksbaum's two sons Gene and Glen Bucksbaum and her daughter Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan, the estate's trustee, are planning for a litigation battle to keep their share of the inheritance. Daughter Mary stated simply that "My sole purpose is to carry out my mother's wishes to protect her family." The Bucksbaum children's lawyer, William D. Zabel, was less restrained in his labeling Learsy's bid to take control of half the family fortune as a "clear case of greed by a colossal cad."

Quitting while you're ahead is difficult when there's even more goodies just beyond your reach. The Bucksbaum estate boasts not only a $100 million art collection, but a three tempting pieces of real estate: an apartment in Tribeca and residences in Sharon, Connecticut, and Aspen, Colorado. It originally derives from the wealth of Melva Bucksbaum's first husband, Iowa shopping center developer Martin Bucksbaum. Whether an estate litigation case is large or small, it's a common occurrence that greed can override the better sensibilities of one or even both parties. In this instance it looks as if the widower, unsatisfied with "mere" millions, sought to make a grab for even more assets. One would think that Learsy's 80 years of life experience might temper the quest for riches, but it's a simple truth in trust and probate litigation that greed can be a man's own worst enemy.

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