Asset Protection Planning in California: What Really Happened with the Walt Disney Estate Dispute

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15th Jul 2014

Walt Disney is well known for his animations, innovative inventions, worldwide theme parks, and blockbuster movies. His companies and many business adventures are still productive financially today. However, in the legal world, Walt Disney is unfortunately most known for the lengthy dispute regarding his massive and wealthy estate among his family members.

As an asset protection planning professional, I believe that studying the Walt Disney Estate dispute will provide a clear explanation of what might happen to an estate if a will, specific terminology, extended circumstances, extended families, and an estate plan are not carefully implemented. Amendments and updates are an integral component to a trust’s success. I have been in the estate planning business for over twenty years so I know what I am talking about.
As a successful businessman, Walt Disney left a considerable and vast trust when he passed away in 1966. He left half of his enormous wealth to be dispersed between his family and his company.  The other half was left for charitable organizations. It was estimated that his extended estate was worth five billion dollars. Walt Disney assumed that his brother Roy Disney would continue to run the profitable business, and then he had a trust drawn up for his wife, children, and grandchildren.
The Disney trust was relevant for the time; however, it included a clause that would turn the family against each other in the hopes of obtaining the biggest slice of a monstrous fortune. In 1993, the youngest Disney daughter Sharon Disney Lund died after a lengthy illness. She had three children: Michelle, Brad, and the adopted Victoria.
Unclear Terms and Extended Families
The trustees, ex-husband Bill Lund and older sister Diane Disney Miller, were to dispense the funds to Sharon’s children when they were ages 35, 40, and 45 respectively if, and only if, they were demonstrating “maturity and financial ability to mange and utilize such funds in a prudent and responsible manner.” Cue the lawsuits now.
The terms mature, prudent, and responsible are words that are quite relative and extremely hard to define in the court of law. Sherry Lund, Bill’s fifth wife, and Bill (acting as trustee) made the determination that Brad was not mature and financially competent enough to handle his dispersions of cash. His portion of the estate was reduced drastically. Sherry and Bill said the move was made to protect Brad. Brad disagreed and took the matter to court with all kinds of dirt and horrible accusations ensued as the estate suit made its way through the court system. Brad felt Sherry and Bill were propelled strictly by greed.
Stepmothers were fighting against daughters who in turn protected a brother who fought a stepfather and the whole sordid mess took years to unravel. Walt would be unpleased to say the least. Unfortunately, Walt Disney never accounted for extended families or step parents and his lawyers did not clearly define what constituted not having the ability to execute “maturity and financial ability to mange and utilize such funds in a prudent and responsible manner.”
The end result after a lengthy and very public dispute was that the family reached an amicable agreement with Bill and he stepped down as estate trustee. The word amiable is used loosely because Bill still wanted to fight the matter but was not healthy enough to do so.
The agreement gave Bill $500,000 per year from Brad’s portion of the trust. No money was taken from Michelle’s portion of the trust. The trust awards continue to be allotted and given as the will originally stated them to do so.
Asset Protection Planning in California
No family should have to endure what happened to the Disney descendants. The family is forever divided because of money. Walt Disney meant to provide for his family, but a catastrophic and ugly war among family members ensued instead.
At Tompkins’s Law the commitment we have for our clients is to:
·      Personally design each client’s specific estate plan
·      Provide guidance and assistance in coordinating assets with their plans
·      Stand ready to provide needed amendments and updates on a regular basis
·      Ensure timely, professional, and affordable estate planning
·      Provide specific documents so issues like the Disney dispute do not occur
Walt Disney himself, once said, “Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.” This is a philosophy we hold dear at the Tompkins Law Offices.
Disney was known for spreading happiness. You think that his survivors would have been quite happy with the generosity he exhibited to them in his trust. Money can do strange things to people. Make sure your family does not fraction, like the Disney family, because of money or poor planning.
Dwight Tompkins, an asset protection planning attorney in California, knows the latest developments and legal changes in the world of estate planning. We are highly qualified and absolutely the best in the greater Orange County, California area.
Tompkins’s Law offers the following asset protection planning services:
·      Estate planning
·      Business Planning
·      Wills
·      Durable Powers of Attorney
·      Incapacity Planning
·      Special Needs Planning
·      Pet Trusts
·      Estate Plan Reviews and Amendments
·      Trust Funding and Transfer of Assets
·      Business Succession Planning
·      Prenuptial Agreement
·      Trust administration
·      Estate and Gift Taxation Services and Advice
Contact Us
It is disheartening that the Disney family had to go through this mess. Do not let your family go through a dispute over your estate because you simply avoided estate planning until it was too late (click here to read our blog post about why people avoid estate planning). Contact Dwight today via the online form or by phone and get an estate plan consultation.

As Eeyore, Disney character from Winnie the Pooh, once said, “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.” Plan ahead today for tomorrow.

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