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Court battle may be looming over Paul Newman’s charities

A legal battle over late movie actor Paul Newman's charitable foundation now appears imminent according to statements his eldest daughter has made recently regarding the handling of her father's estate. The late actor, who enjoyed tremendous success starring in movies, also dabbled in creating salad dressings and later enjoyed tremendous success selling them.

From its outset in 1982, Newman was adamant that all proceeds obtained from the sales of his products would go to fund charitable activities. Since its creation, it's believed that profits from Newman's Own food empire money have funded at least $430 million in charitable works.

However, Newman's eldest daughter says that a man her father appointed as co-executor of his estate has now shifted the direction of Newman's estate in a manner that she says her father did not intend prior to his death in 2008. Newman's daughter accuses the current director of Newman's Own Foundation of unnecessary spending that she described as lavish and self-aggrandizing.

At the heart of the dispute, Newman's daughter points to a six-page letter Newman's attorney drafted around the time of Newman's 75th birthday in 1999. The letter outlined how the actor's considerable estate would be managed after his death. Most importantly, the document placed significant managerial control of Newman's charitable interests under the supervision of his children.

It remains unclear whether Newman's eldest daughter will contest the management of her father's estate through probate litigation. However, Newman's daughter has indicated that she feels it is her duty to safeguard her father's legacy and fulfill his wishes as he intended.

There are several things you should know if you are an heir to a trust or an estate. New York laws require that estates valued at $30,000 or more go through a process in Surrogate's Court known as probate. Generally, this process is done to determine the validity of a deceased person's will and distribute the items contained within the will among creditors and beneficiaries.

You need to know that challenging a will in Surrogate's Court is not easy; however, the distribution of a decedent's estate must accurately reflect the wishes of the person who formed the will as much as possible. A New York estate planning attorney can assist you in helping to safeguard your deceased relative or loved one's estate and give voice to their intentions throughout the probate process.

Source: Vanity Fair, "Inside the Family Battle for the Newman’s Own Brand Name," Mark Seal, July 23, 2015

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