Sumner Redstone probate case — after three-year court slog — finally ends in victory for family
The titanic battle over media mogul Sumner Redstone’s mental state ended with a whimper in a nearly empty Los Angeles courtroom Wednesday.
More than three years after the mental acuity of the billionaire from Boston was challenged by his former live-in companion — who filed a lawsuit that exposed Redstone’s declining health and the tawdry inner workings of his empire — a judge entered a decision that the Redstone family has long sought.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David J. Cowan rebuffed Redstone’s legal antagonist, Manuela Herzer. Cowan signed off on a hard-fought settlement reached this month with the Redstone family. Herzer promised to repay Redstone $3.25 million for some of the gifts she had received over the years and also end a barrage of lawsuits.
Cowan approved changes that were made to Redstone’s personal estate plan in October 2015 and May 2016, memorializing how the 95-year-old media mogul would like his personal assets divvied up after he is gone. And Cowan also appointed a guardian ad litem (the same person who once looked after pop star Britney Spears) to monitor Redstone’s affairs and care.
“This proceeding is now concluded,” Cowan said during the 15-minute hearing.
With the ruling, which was expected, Cowan affirmed the Redstone family’s position that the media mogul continues to understand what’s going on around him. Cowan noted that in the fall of 2015, when the wrangling began, “Redstone was on top of how much money he had,” even when a doctor examining him seemed confused.
The bulk of Redstone’s wealth is tied up in the family’s controlling stakes in CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc., but his personal property could be worth as much as $150 million, according to court records.
His 15,355-square-foot Mediterranean mansion in Beverly Park remains one of his primary assets. The home, with sweeping views of Beverly Hills and the Los Angeles Basin, is next door to Sylvester Stallone’s.
Redstone has been in declining health for several years. Since losing the ability to speak, he has used an iPad with buttons for “yes” and “no” to communicate. Because of that disability, Cowan in December ruled that Redstone was incapacitated.
However, Cowan stopped short of deeply delving into questions of Redstone’s current mental soundness.
The famously combative executive has changed his original 2003 estate plan dozens of times, drafting new amendments as family members, girlfriends and others fell in and out of his favor.
The version approved Wednesday included the 40th and 41st amendments to the Sumner Murray Redstone Trust.
“Mr. Redstone had sufficient capacity to execute” the two amendments, Cowan wrote in his order.
With so much wealth at stake, Redstone’s attorneys sought to have a judge verify the most recent changes in the hopes of warding off potential legal challenges in the years to come.
Herzer, a former girlfriend who remained in Redstone’s orbit years after their romance ended, was kicked out of the billionaire’s mansion in October 2015 and written out of his will. In the 40th amendment, Herzer was expunged from his estate plan. The 41st amendment made housekeeping changes.
Herzer’s attempt to restore her standing began with a lawsuit in November 2015 — a case that ultimately exposed Redstone’s failing health, questions about his mental capacity and other tawdry secrets: female escorts called to his mansion to entertain him, stock sales to generate millions of dollars that he lavished on girlfriends, and how the once-fearsome mogul was prone to crying spells.
Neither Herzer nor her attorneys were in court Wednesday. Only two of Redstone’s attorneys, and his new guardian, Samuel Ingham, were present.
“After three years of litigation, Mr. Redstone is grateful for today’s court confirmation of his capacity to execute his estate plan, and of his free will in doing so,” one of his attorneys, Gabrielle Vidal of Loeb & Loeb, said in a statement. “Now all he needs is a Patriots’ win.”
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