In June of 2009, 94 year old Benjamin Heath was sued by six of his ten children. Their claim was that he, their father, was unjustly enriched by his receipt since 1967 of millions of dollars from something called the Hembdt Trust.
In 1942, Ben Heath had married Aloise Buckley, the daughter of William F. Buckley, herself one of ten children. Through a syndicate set up by her father, she and her nine siblings, along with friends and business associates of her father, placed their gas and oil royalties into the Hembdt Trust in 1953. She died in 1967, leaving her husband Ben Heath and 10 children, all of whom except one were under 21 years of age. Within two years of her death, Ben married Maria to whom he was still married when suit was brought. They had no children.
Aloise left a typical Will for someone with her wealth, pursuant to which half of her assets were to pass to her children and the other half to a marital trust for her spouse, Ben. The marital trust provided that upon Ben’s death, the assets would pass to the children unless Ben directed otherwise. In 2008, Ben’s children learned that he had directed that his wife, Maria, should receive the benefits of the marital trust for her life, and then upon her death, all assets would pass to his children. Upon learning this, 6 of his 10 children decided to file suit to prevent Maria from receiving this benefit and to recoup prior payments made to their father. They sought a court trial and not a jury trial.
The Hembdt Trust provided that upon death of a beneficiary, everything should pass to her or his “legal representatives, heirs-at-law or next of kin.” These children claimed in their suit that this language meant “lineal descendants” because their grandfather had wanted everything to stay within the family and that therefore, the marital trust should not have been receiving any part of their mother’s interest in the Hembdt Trust. In their suit, Bank of America as a co-trustee of that trust was made a defendant with Ben Heath.
Their uncle, Aloise’s brother, James Buckley, a former United States Senator and Associate Justice on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, did not agree. He also had an interest in the Hembdt Trust; he had been involved with the trust since the 1950’s; and since the late 1970’s he had been a trustee of the Hembdt Trust. He advised these children not to file suit; that they had no case. When suit was brought, he was also a defendant in his capacity as trustee of the Hembdt Trust.
The case was tried twice. Prior to trial, the plaintiffs settled with Bank of America and James Buckley. At trial only Ben Heath remained as a defendant.
The first trial was before Judge Robert Satter in September of 2011. After trial, all parties submitted briefs as required by the court. Before a decision could be rendered, Judge Satter, unfortunately, passed away. A mistrial was declared, and the case was tried a second time before Judge Koletsky in March of 2012. Judge Koletsky issued a decision in favor of defendant Ben Heath in June, 2012. The plaintiffs appealed.
Sadly, subsequent to trial and while the appeal was pending, Ben Heath died at age 98. His widow, Maria Heath was substituted as the Executor of his Estate. The appeal was fully briefed and argued in March, 2014. A decision affirming Judge Koletsky’s decision was issued on Monday, May 5, 2014.
The Gale Law Firm team received assistance from Ben’s California counsel, Richard Heaton, and from the two attorneys in Hartford representing the co-defendants: Edward Heath (no relation) of Robinson and Cole representing James Buckley and James Sicilian of Day Pitney representing Bank of America.