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Families of 2 Quake Victims Battle Over Estate : Courts: Relatives have filed a posthumous palimony complaint. Those who sold the couple their dream home also face suits.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They lived with all the usual fast-lane L.A. trappings--jobs in “the industry,” a distinctive hillside house, luxury cars, no marriage certificate. Then they lost everything, including their lives, when the house slid down a hillside in the Northridge quake.

Now the deaths of Marc Yobs and Karen Osterholt have given rise to another part of the lifestyle: an avalanche of litigation, including a posthumous palimony complaint.

Osterholt’s family is suing Yobs’ relations for a share of his estate, including the collapsed Sherman Oaks house, some quake-damaged antiques, and his $300,000 life-insurance policy. In addition, both sets of surviving relatives are pursuing separate lawsuits against the people who sold the couple their dream home on Sherwood Place.

Legal evidence is expected to include coroner’s reports on the couple’s Jan. 17 deaths because Osterholt was the sole beneficiary of Yobs’ life-insurance policy--but only if she survived him.

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“There’s a dispute--and this is kind of gruesome,” warned attorney Jane Grilliot, “over whether they died simultaneously or who lived longer.”

If she died first or at the same time, the policy’s $300,000 proceeds would become part of his estate, to be claimed by his relatives. But if he died first, the insurance money would then be hers, becoming part of her estate to be parceled out to her family.

Grilliot, who represents Osterholt’s estate against the house’s sellers, said she was unable to comment further on the rift between the families. And lawyers for the rival estates also refused to comment.

But according to court documents and other sources, the palimony dispute arose in the months after the couple were buried side-by-side and because Osterholt’s parents received none of Yobs’ life insurance settlement.

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Osterholt and Yobs, both San Fernando Valley natives, were working in the entertainment industry when they died. Osterholt, 30, had recently begun working as a receptionist at Mark Goodson Productions after a longtime job waiting tables. Yobs, 32, was an account manager for The Post Group, a film production company where he had worked his way up over the course of 6 1/2 years.

In a suit filed May 4 in Los Angeles Superior Court, Osterholt’s mother, Eileen Waldrop, who is also administrator of Osterholt’s estate, alleges that the Prudential Life Insurance Company of America ignored the estate’s claims and wrongfully gave the insurance money to the Yobs family, in part because Yobs’ mother is a Prudential employee.

The suit notes that under state law, when an insured person and the only named beneficiary die together, insurance proceeds revert to the insured’s estate. But the suit contends there is medical evidence that Osterholt survived in the ruins longer than Yobs, making her estate eligible to get the money.

An attorney for Osterholt’s relatives, Robert S. Waldo of Camarillo, would not elaborate on the court record. Similarly, a lawyer representing the Yobs family, Martin C. Bobak of Los Angeles, would not comment.

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But Yobs’ older brother, Dave, challenged the suit’s central claim that Osterholt lived longer, saying it is based on a questionable review of coroner’s reports by a privately retained physician. No autopsies were performed on Yobs or Osterholt, Dave Yobs said, adding that the suit has been a blow to his grieving parents, Margaret and Henry.

“My parents don’t deserve or need to be going through this,” said Dave Yobs of Woodland Hills.

Dave Yobs also challenged a second suit filed last month that demands a share of his brother’s estate for Osterholt’s survivors, contending that Osterholt sacrificed her own interests to help support Yobs as he pursued his career.

Once they began living together, the suit says, Osterholt “continued to work as a waitress, giving up opportunities for education and opportunities to advance in a career, in order to devote her entire skills, efforts, labors, and earnings, to maintaining the household for (Yobs), including doing all necessary housekeeping and related chores, including shopping . . . and maintaining social skills with friends and acquaintances and providing companionship to (Yobs).”

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Both sides agree Osterholt never held title to the house, which was purchased in February, 1992, for $400,000 in Yobs’ name. But the palimony suit says the two “cohabitants” of nearly eight years had an oral agreement to share everything equally. In an interview, Grilliot said, “We do know that funds from both parties were used to purchase the house. We’re still trying to figure out how much each contributed.”

Dave Yobs said his brother paid for the house on his own.

“I’m really irritated that (the suit claims) she was entitled to half of his house,” said Dave Yobs, a real estate agent who represented his brother in the sale.

“She didn’t qualify for the house. Her income wasn’t used to help qualify for it. My brother bought it as a single man, the title was very specific on it. She didn’t put in one dollar.

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“She was a receptionist at Mark Goodson and got her foot through the door through my brother. My brother helped get her a job there.”

Dave Yobs also disagreed with the length of time his brother had actually lived with Osterholt, saying the pair had an on-again, off-again relationship until Yobs bought the house. Yobs--memorialized in the credits of the action film “Speed"--also paid for his Porsche and the BMW that Osterholt drove, Dave Yobs said.

Osterholt’s parents, Waldrop and Gerold Osterholt, could not be reached for comment. A sister, Lisa Silechio of Pasadena, said family lawyers had told her not to comment.

In separate legal actions, both families are suing the attorney and his business partners who sold the house to Yobs, claiming they suppressed a crucial engineering report that warned of structural flaws in the house.

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In fact, the twin suits claim, a would-be buyer named James Malmberg backed out after receiving the unfavorable report from an engineer he hired to review the property. After that, the defendants switched escrow companies and real estate agents “and anyone who knew about the report” before selling the house to Yobs, the Yobs family’s attorney, Alexander Robertson IV, said in a telephone interview.

The defendants also set up two dummy corporations--Properties Du Monde Inc. and Danat Investment--to hold title to the house and insulate themselves from responsibility for the damaging engineering report, Robertson said.

The suits name as defendants attorney and real estate investor Lawrence R. Gordon; his alleged partner and contractor Richard Robinson and Robinson’s wife Margarette; Properties Du Monde Inc.; the Danat Investment Co.; and two more alleged business partners of Gordon’s, Daniel J. Eget and Nathan J. Reese.

None could be reached for comment.

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