Friends Appeal To 4th DCA For Part Of $44 Million Estate
An attorney for friends of a Standard Oil heiress who claim they were cheated out of their share of her $44 million estate argued Tuesday on appeal to resuscitate a dismissed lawsuit.
Anne Pierce McBride, 61, of Palm Beach died of breast cancer June 1, 2005, five days after she changed her will and two days after she remarried her ex-husband, Wolfgang Von Falkenberg, in a hospice.
Christian Finucane, Olaf Finucane and Christine Gordon alleged constructive fraud and intentional interference with their expected inheritance. Palm Beach Circuit Judge Sandra McSorley dismissed the lawsuit, finding they had an adequate alternative remedy they failed to exhaust.
Jeffrey Skatoff of Clark Skatoff in Palm Beach Gardens argued to the Fourth District Court of Appeal that the trust contest in probate court before Circuit Judge Jack Cook should not be a barrier to another civil action.
Cook found their probate case filed in 2011 was untimely and barred by a four-year statute of repose. They did not appeal his decision.
Skatoff argued his clients didn't question the will earlier because they trusted Von Falkenberg's claims that there wasn't enough money in the estate even to pay the $500,000 bequests left to the plaintiffs in the amended will, but he would pay the bequests from his own money.
It was not until after the statute of repose expired that they learned the McBride trust was worth $44 million.
In McBride's 2004 will, she left most of her fortune to charity. The rest was to be divided in seven shares. Von Falkenberg would get two-sevenths, and the plaintiffs would each get one-seventh. The amounts were not specified, but the complaint asserts each would have received several million dollars.
The altered will left $43 million in cash, securities and property in Florida, California and Hawaii to Von Falkenberg, the court documents state.
Fourth District Judge Melanie May questioned whether the plaintiffs were allowed to bring a cause of action after they received the bequests, which were honored.