Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The loss of a parent is hard, even for adult children - but what happens when the family inheritance disappears in the wake of that parent's death? The pain can be compounded. Oftentimes there might be just one course of action to take when assets are hijacked by third parties: estate & trust litigation. Jennie Scaife, the daughter of Pennsylvania billionaire-philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife, is pursuing legal action to challenge her father's will, which excluded her from its provisions. Her attorneys are pressing allegations of undue influence in the run-up to her father's death at age 82 in 2014.
One major reason Jennie Scaife found no place in her father's last testament was his enthusiasm for family-run philanthropic causes, the Allegheny Foundation and Sarah Scaife Foundation. Both Jennie and her brother David were cut out of the inheritance. To make matters worse, the trust that their late grandmother Sarah Mellon Scaife instituted once counted $210 million, an amount the two children would have received. Yet that trust was drained to serve Scaife's obsession with propping up a local newspaper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Jennie is now leading the charge to recover any Scaife family assets. Scaife's deteriorated physical and mental state, along with the fact that he signed his final will with the assistance of his bodyguard, means that the possibility of undue influence in this case must be weighed.
Jennie is also leveling an additional charge of undue influence against the late Scaife's attorney, H. Yale Gutnick. The heiress accuses Gutnick of taking advantage of her father in his old age and debilitated condition. In Scaife's 2008 will, Jennie was supposed to inherit Scaife and Mellon family memorabilia. Yet, in the alterations of 2010 and the last will in 2013, she was fully excluded from receiving anything. If a judge were to deem the will invalid because of any undue influence on Scaife, the assets would be distributed according to any prior, legitimate will. In the litigation process ahead, Jennie's challenge will be proving that she was indeed a part of the will before the alleged events of undue influence took place.
The trick to any recovery will be substantiating the assertion that Mr. Gutnick exercised control over Scaife's affairs later in life, when he could be easily manipulated. Multiple alterations and creations of new wills in Richard Scaife's twilight years may point to possible undue influence or elder financial abuse, though that will be for a court to decide. In the meantime, Jennie Scaife and her brother will continue trust litigation to keep millions worth in assets "in the family."