Image Credit: Thomas Tunsch and dronepicr
If Hawaii were still a monarchy, Abigail Kawananakoa (known as "Kekau" (pronounced kay-kow) would probably be a princess. At 92 years old, she is an heiress to her great-grandfather's $200 million fortune derived from a Maui sugar plantation business started in the mid-1800s.
Like many wealthy heirs and heiresses, Kekau inherited not just assets, but the burden of what to do with the fortune after she dies. To address that issue, she set up a revocable living trust in 2001, which now holds the bulk of her fortune. But in 2017, a trustee alleged that Kekau's longtime partner, Veronica Worth, 27 years her junior, whom she married that same year, was abusing her. The matter went to Probate Court when Kekau fired the trustee and tried to replace him with three others, including Veronica Worth.
Because Kekau had recently suffered a stroke, the judge in the case made an unusual ruling. He said that Kekau was mentally competent to fire trustees, but was not competent to hire new ones. The Judge, therefore, allowed her to fire the trustee she had had a falling out with but named First Hawaiian Bank as the new trustee. Kekau's partner was not appointed.
Of course, that's not the end of the story. Once she removed the trustee, Kekau amended her trust to give 18% of its assets, valued at approximately $40 million, to her partner and wife, Veronica Worth. Since 2005, Worth has been receiving nearly $60,000 per month in income from Kekau, but now she's in line to receive a massive inheritance.
Because so much is at stake, even Hawaii's Attorney General has weighed in against the move, hoping that a greater share of trust assets will eventually go to benefit all Hawaiians.
In Hawaii, the case continues to spark regular headlines. As recently as last November, Kekau's foundation asked a judge to appoint a guardian to protect assets, including rare artifacts, that belong to her family and which might be given to Veronica Worth.
Kekau's attorney said he could not comment on the continued litigation, but did offer that his client is in "fine health."
With such a large fortune at stake, it's clear that the case of the Hawaiian princess will not quickly go away.
Here is yet another example of what happens when people in their 80's and 90's make substantive and substantial changes to their trusts and estates. Whenever the sums are large enough, and certainly $200 million qualifies, there are bound to be legal challenges.
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