Court Refuses to Alter Inheritance Left by J. Paul Getty to Eldest Son

Times Staff Writer

A state appellate court has turned down a bid by J. Ronald Getty, 57, for a larger share in his oil-wealthy family’s multibillion-dollar trust, agreeing with a lower court judge that he waited too long to do something about it.

The eldest living son of the late J. Paul Getty had sued to “equalize” the terms of the trust drawn up in 1934 by his father and grandmother, Sarah C. Getty, which left him only $3,000 a year while three other J. Paul Getty sons received escalating payments amounting to much more.

In declining to order a change in the trust nearly three years ago, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Julius M. Title ruled that there was no proof of Ronald Getty’s claim that his father promised in 1940 to correct the inequity.


“Although J. Paul’s intentions appeared sincere,” wrote 2nd District State Court of Appeal Judge Malcolm Mackey in upholding Title on Friday, “his inaction, for whatever reason, worked to the detriment of Ronald. . . .”

The appellate justices noted that Ronald received $200,000 in trust (which later became 79,000 shares of Getty Oil stock) from the 1941 will of Sarah--four times the amount she left for each of his brothers.

Also, in 1976 he received a home valued at $1 million and $7 million in executor fees under the will of his father.

Ronald Getty had also sued the J. Paul Getty Museum, a major heir to the oil fortune, but the museum settled its part of the suit for $10 million before trial.

Ronald Getty was J. Paul Getty’s son by his second wife, Adolfine (Fini), who lived with the wealthy oil man only a few months before returning to her home in Germany and bearing Ronald in December, 1929.

In 1934, when the trust was drawn up, J. Paul Getty and Sarah Getty, Ronald’s grandmother, did not want a large portion of their fortune to go to Germany, so they limited the child’s share to $3,000 a year.

Also, it was brought out in the Superior Court suit, all assumed that Ronald would inherit a large fortune from his maternal grandfather, German industrialist Otto Helmle. The Nazis, however, jailed Helmle and stripped him of his fortune.

In waiting until 1979 to file his suit to change the terms, the appellate justices agreed, Ronald Getty had allowed the California statute of limitations to lapse years earlier.

In May of last year, more than two dozen members of the Getty family resolved their long battle over disposition of the trust--then estimated to be worth $4 billion--and agreed to divide it into four smaller trusts of $750 million each.

Gordon Getty, 52, and Eugene Paul Getty Jr., 53, J. Paul Getty’s sons by his third wife, each was to oversee a $750-million trust while a third trust of similar size was to be shared by the three daughters of J. Paul Getty’s first son, George Franklin Getty II, who died in 1973.

The fourth $750-million trust was to be divided in three parts so that Ronald Getty would get his $3,000 a year and the rest of that trust’s income would be distributed among other beneficiaries. Another $1 billion went to pay state and federal capital gains taxes.