As reported in When the Rich Die, Lawsuits Sometimes Fly by WSJ columnist Robert Frank, the widow of famed nutritionist Dr. Robert Atkins is suing the trustees of her $400 million marital trust.  Ms. Atkins’ lawsuit is also summarized in greater detail in a press release (interesting litigation tactic?).  And there’s a Florida connection: as reported here, Ms. Atkins’ attorney is celebrity Florida attorney Roy Black.

Here is an excerpt from the linked-to WSJ column:

Ms. Atkins’ tale, recounted in my print column today, is a lesson in choosing advisors. When Dr. Robert Atkins, of Atkins diet fame, died suddenly in 2003 after slipping and falling on an icy New York City sidewalk, he had a relatively small investible fortune, since most of his wealth was tied up in his business. When the business was sold after his death, his wife was left with $400 million. Dr. Atkins had appointed two of his business partners as trustees for the marital trust. But shortly after his death, Veronica Atkins got a call from a family acquaintance to offer to help manager her money. She got rid of the two advisors appointed by her late husband and hired a new team, led by a Miami businessman.

Over time, however, Ms. Atkins felt that the advisors were taking her for a ride. So in 2006, she stopped paying part of their hefty salaries — $1.2 million a year each — and asked that they be terminated. The advisors sued, claiming breach of contract. They also say Ms. Atkins has fallen prey to a financial predator, Alexis Mersentes, now Ms. Atkins’ husband. They say Mr. Mersentes had the advisors fired so he could get his hands on the Atkins fortune.

Lesson learned?  When the stakes are high, hire corporate fiduciaries to avoid disputes.

Mr. Frank ends his quick summary of the Atkins litigation with this bit of sage advice:

The case offers an important lesson: hire a bank or trust firm. Sure, they can be irresponsible too. But if Dr. Atkins had hired a private bank or trust company to give advice to Veronica – who had little financial experience – she might not have been vulnerable to all manner of advisors and “friends.”

I agree with Mr. Frank and have previously said the same myself (see here).

Original source: Death & Taxes Blog