Gregory S. DuPont
Howard Hughes: Outer Limits
At the time of his death on April 6th, 1976, Howard Hughes was known as one of the wealthiest, eccentric, and influential industrialists in the world. He died at the age of 70.
After inheriting money from his father he invested in making movies. Not only did he become involved in the entertainment industry, but he was also heavily involved in the real estate, aviation, aerospace, science, and technology industries, founding companies such as Hughes Aircraft and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
After Hughes' death, over 600 people came forward claiming to have an interest in his fortune. Over 40 different wills were produced, each one claimed to be the “one true” last will and testament of Howard Hughes. After about five years of this chaos and several lawsuits, a judge deemed that none of the wills were valid and declared that Hughes had died intestate.
The most famous of these wills came to be known as “The Morman Will”. A handwritten will that bequeathed $1.56 Billion to various charities (including $625 Million to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute), nearly $470 Million to the upper management in Hughes's companies, $156 Million to first cousin William Lummis, and $156 Million split equally between his two ex-wives Ella Rice and Jean Peters. A further $156 Million was endowed to a gas-station owner, Melvin Dummar, who claimed to have saved Hughes's life after finding him dirty and disheveled on the side of a road outside Las Vegas and giving him a lift the 150 miles to The Sands Hotel. Dummar said the man told him that he was Hughes and that he would repay his kindness someday.
In the end, under intestacy laws, $2.5 Billion was split between 22 of Hughes’s legal cousins in 1983. In 1984, a woman named Terry Moore came forth alleging that she and Hughes were married on a yacht in international waters off the coast of Mexico in 1949, and they were never divorced. No proof of the marriage was produced, but the estate paid her $400,000.
Litigation over the estate carried on for decades with the final settlements being made in 2010. This included a $230 Million payout to the estate beneficiaries for their interest in a Las Vegas residential project called Summerlin.
It took 34 years to settle the Hughes estate. There is no doubt that many of the distant relatives who inherited Hughes’ wealth wouldn’t have been known to Howard Hughes but without an estate plan, it made no difference under probate law.
No matter how large or small your estate, even the most simple estate plans can offer clarity and peace of mind in tumultuous times. We have an experienced team of estate planning attorneys that are ready to help you, no matter what your situation. Contact us today to learn more about your estate and trust planning options, and how to avoid estate disputes.