LEONARD COHEN’S CHILDREN GET SHAFTED AFTER LC’S FRIEND TAKES CONTROL OF HIS ESTATE.
If you live outside the US and are a beneficiary of a person living in the US, Leonard Cohen’s probate dispute is a perfect example of what happens when people close to the plate get greedy at the expense of those further away. As US probate lawyers, we know that when a person with assets approaches death (in America or elsewhere), those closest to that person are often tempted to engage in questionable conduct to get a bigger part of the pie – at the expense of those further away.
Leonard Cohen (LC) died in 2016 and left behind two children – Adam and Lorca. It is estimated that at his death, LC had a sizeable estate – valued at $50,000,000. As is often the case with larger estates and high-profile people, LC sought to avoid the probate process, as the court documents in probate cases are public information and open to the media’s preying eyes. To avoid the public eye, LC set up trust. One of the main benefits of using a trust is that the trust is a private document and the administration of the trust does not go through probate. The entire process is private.
When LC created the trust he chose his good friend to be the trustee – Robert Kory. As it turns out, both as LC’s health deteriorated and after his death, Kory began enjoying significant parts of LC’s estate, and making self-serving decisions regarding the trust assets. Not only that, but he disengaged from LC’s children, leaving them in the dark.
Obviously, LC’s children did not like this and started investigating. They found out that that the circumstances surrounding LC’s naming Kory as trustee were suspicious. They filed a lawsuit to have him removed as trustee.
This is where things get messy and expensive. To overturn a person’s explicit instructions set forth in a signed trust is very difficult. To win they must prove that Kory used unlawful influence over their mentally incompetent father. This means:
Court documents demonstrate that they seek to prove exactly that. They claim that towards death, Cohen himself told them that be began “to appreciate in his waning days that he had made a grave error by allowing Kory to insinuate himself into Leonard’s affairs and take control over virtually every aspect of Leonard’s finances and legacy.” Furthermore, they claim that Kory had forged documents in an attempt to seize control of Cohen’s assets.
Their lawyer produced two signed versions of the trust. An earlier one named the children as trustees. The later one was exactly the same but had pages “swapped out […] that designated Kory as the trustee.” Or so they claim. Kory’s lawyers dispute this and claim that LC gave written instructions “change the successor trustee to Mr. Kory.”
How the dispute will end is anyone’s guess. But the lesson is clear for non-US beneficiaries who are far away from the US-plate of a family member. Your interests need to be protected.
Our firm regularly represents non-US clients in US probate proceedings. And we look for good cases to take on a success basis where we are compensated only if we win.