The Hawaii Attorney General’s Office is entering the legal fight over who controls the $200 million trust of Abigail Kawananakoa so that it can protect the interests of Native Hawaiians who are in line to receive a large share of the money when she dies.
Kawananakoa, a princess descended from Native Hawaiian royalty, recently had a stroke that may have left her legally incapable of managing her own finances.
James Wright, her former attorney, took control of the trust last month with the approval of a state Circuit Court judge, setting off a bitter legal fight between Wright, the 91-year-old Hawaiian princess and her live-in girlfriend, Veronica Gail Worth.
Abigail Kawananakoa at the Hawaii Supreme Court in 2015.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Wright says Worth is manipulating Kawananakoa in an attempt to get more money out of the princess before she dies. He also says that he has “photographic evidence” that Worth has committed physical acts of violence against Kawananakoa.
This week the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office notified Wright, Worth and Kawananakoa’s attorneys that it will participate in any future proceedings involving the trust.
In an email Monday, Deputy Attorney General Hugh Jones, of the Tax and Charities Division, wrote that his office was “vitally interested” in any legal determination as to her legal capacity to manage her own finances.
He also said that his office wants to make sure that the estate is not “diverted or dissipated in any way” before such a determination is made.
Jones said he was particularly concerned about the Abigail K. K. Foundation, which is a nonprofit corporation formed in 2001 in Delaware to act as a beneficiary of the estate.
Kawananakoa’s trust is currently estimated at around $215 million, with much of the value coming from James Campbell Co. stocks. The money is supposed to go to the foundation once she dies so that it can provide social, cultural, medical and educational benefits to Native Hawaiians.
Among her various philanthropic ventures, the princess is perhaps best known for her work maintaining Iolani Palace, the only royal residence in the United States. Kawananakoa’s great-granduncle was King David Kalakaua, who built the palace in the late 19th century.
“We cannot at this point say that we are armed with all the relevant facts and information,” Jones wrote. “However, we understand that if Ms. Kawananakoa does lack legal capacity, her Delaware charitable foundation may have a vested interest in the bulk of her Estate.
Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin’s office will get involved in the dispute over Abigail Kawananakoa’s $215 million estate.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
“The Attorney General has the legal authority to protect charitable assets regardless of the form in which they are held and to take action to prevent the waste or diversion of charitable assets.”
Jones reiterated the Attorney General’s involvement in the case Tuesday, telling Civil Beat that it is not unusual for the agency take part in matters involving charities.
“The Attorney General has a very robust legal authority over charitable assets,” Jones said.
Kawananakoa’s attorney, Michael Lilly — a former Hawaii attorney general — did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
But in an email response to Jones, Lilly said that it’s his belief that Kawananakoa has legal “capacity.”
Wright, who he says was fired by Kawananakoa after Worth found out that he had taken over the trust, said that the fact that the Attorney General’s Office will likely be involved is a good sign.
“I’m delighted,” Wright said. “What’s needed here is third-party protection.”
Wright worked for Kawananakoa for nearly 20 years, and says that it’s clear to him that Kawananakoa’s personality has changed since the June 18 stroke.
He also notes that he doesn’t have a financial stake in the trust, which is not the case for Worth.
Worth has been Kawananakoa’s live-in partner for more than 20 years and receives an allowance of roughly $700,000 a year. Wright said she’s tried on several occasions to convince Kawananakoa to give her more, but was unsuccessful.
In March, Wright said Worth asked Kawananakoa for $26 million in James Campbell Co. stock as well as the deeds to the princess’s residence and adjoining properties. When the princess told Worth no, she became upset and moved out. He said she only returned after the stroke.
“Every dollar that goes out (of the trust) is a dollar that the Hawaiians don’t get,” Wright said. “They Attorney General’s job is to make sure that the money goes where it’s supposed to go.”
The next court date in the matter is scheduled for Sept. 1.
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