For many wealthy people, setting up a charitable family foundation is a way to create an enduring legacy. When family members associated with the trust disagree, though, it can lead to probate litigation.

Longtime Detroit Pistons owner William Davidson created a family foundation prior to his death so that causes important to him could continue to be served. Davidson named four family members as trustees of the foundation. The trustees are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute among one another. The Oakland County probate court that heard this case has recently unsealed records of the litigation.

The William M. Davidson Foundation was set up to fund charitable, scientific, literary and educational purposes. It seems the trustees are divided on many issues, including control of the foundation, makeup of the board of directors and the salary paid to one of the trustees.

One trustee has filed a petition with the probate court to divide the foundation into two separate entities to preserve the foundations assets. Another trustee, Davidson’s widow, has submitted an affidavit that it was Davidson’s wish that the foundation be one entity.

This legal battle is set to continue in another state. The probate judge assigned this case has deferred it to the state of Delaware, citing the fact that the foundation was incorporated in that state.

While most estates do not involve as much money as that of a professional sports owner, proper estate planning can sometimes avoid conflicts among family members after a loved one’s death.

Source: Detroit Free Press, “Family feuds over late billionaire William Davidson’s charitable trust,” L. L. Brasier, May 28, 2013

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