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Sumner Redstone Estate Battle Moves Forward

Sumner Redstone Estate Battle.jpg

Are we having fun yet? Image: Daily Mail

The battle for control of billionaire media mogul Sumner Redstone's $5.2 billion in assets is about to enter a new, potentially decisive phase of estate litigation. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Cowan has set a trial date for May 6th in order to determine whether the 92-year-old Redstone has the capacity (or competency) to make business and personal decisions for himself.

This high-profile estate battle erupted in October of last year when Redstone, founder of the Viacom-CBS media empire, removed former love interest Manuela Herzer - 40 years younger - as his agent for an advanced health care directive in his estate plan. Herzer was disinherited of $70 million ($50 million and a $20 million Beverly Hills house) she had been counting on once Redstone embarked on his final journey into the great beyond. The aging entertainment titan not only kicked Herzer out of his home and his will, but also then-girlfriend Sydney Holland, who had been promised some portion of Redstone's fortune, as well. Herzer alleges that Redstone is mentally incapacitated to such a degree that daughter Shari Redstone and Viacom CEO Philipp Dauman are exercising undue influence over him against his best interests. Redstone's attorneys, meanwhile, deny any such charges, deeming them "factual spaghetti thrown at a wall."

Spaghetti or not, Judge Cowan found the circumstances surrounding Redstone's contested capacity sufficiently troubling to permit a trial to move forward. Among other factors, he noted that Dauman, the replacement agent for advanced health care directive, lives in New York, while Redstone's daughter Shari resides far away in Boston. "Nobody," Cowan stated, "is sufficiently in charge of [providing] the ongoing care that Redstone needs." He went on to reference a medical examination of Redstone conducted by a geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Stephen L. Read, a specialist hired by Herzer, which raised concern over his mental state and ability to communicate. And Viacom CEO Dauman, who says he speaks with an "engaged and attentive" Redstone on several occasions every week, will now be made to testify after a New York State Supreme Court judge ruled against his objections to giving Herzer's lawyers a deposition.

It's a sad but true fact that instances undue influence and manipulation aren't entirely rare in cases of estate, trust and probate litigation, and serious allegations merit serious attention. The Sumner Redstone story is no exception, despite the appearance that just about everyone involved seems primarily concerned with grabbing for money and only looking after their own well-being. However the trial might progress, the future of Viacom, CBS, and other related enterprises under Redstone's National Amusements umbrella is being called into question, leaving plenty of nervous shareholders worried over corporate stability.

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