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Children of tycoon's wife fighting for his Panama estate

For Nevada residents wondering if proper estate planning is a good idea or not, the following story may answer that question. In 2006, an American multimillionaire died and left the majority of his fortune to a new foundation that was intended and dedicated to feeding Panama's poor children. A 7,000 acre tract along Panama's Pacific Coast, called Hacienda Santa Monica, was dedicated as part of a plan to grow for poor kids from seeds. He separately provided for his politically connected Panamanian wife and her children.

Some five years later, not one seed has been purchased or planted. His will has become the stuff of a Hollywood screenplay with allegations of extortion, bribery, fraud and even murder tossed around in international courts. At issue is the estate's main asset, the Hacienda Santa Monica, which appears to have been left for the benefit of Panama's poor. That huge parcel of land, valued at between $50 million to $175 million, remains in legal limbo as probate courts in both Panama and the United States try to sort it all out.

The children of the man's Panamanian wife (who has since died) contends that the whole idea of feeding children via seed planting is pure fiction, made up by the man's long-time attorney. They succeeded in winning some battles in Panamanian courts, but the case is not yet fully settled. The attorney for the man filed a $725 million suit in September in U.S. federal court alleging various criminal activities on the part of the family. That suit is pending.

It may be years longer before the true details of this case emerge. What is certain now is that had more formal estate planning documents been drafted before the tycoon's death, much of this mess could have been avoided. While most Nevada residents may not have the massive fortune this individual accumulated, they can still benefit by working with an experienced probate and estate administration attorney. The lawyer can assess all the facts and circumstances and devise a plan that meets the needs of the client while ensuring that his wishes are ultimately honored in an orderly and appropriate fashion.

Source: The Fox News Latino, "Tycoon's Heirs Fight Over Money Left for Panama's Poor," Nov. 1, 2011

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