The new directors of Hawaiian heiress Abigail Kawananakoa’s charity are scheduled to go to court Thursday in the legal battle over her $215 million fortune and the fight to preserve much of it for Native Hawaiian causes.
The three board members of the Abigail K.K. Kawananakoa Foundation — former Bishop Estate trustee Oswald Stender, University of Hawaii Hawaiian Studies Professor Lilikala Kameeleihiwa and Hawaiian social services executive Jan Dill — have enlisted the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. to help them bring a halt to the court action fight over Kawananakoa’s trust until they are able to catch up with the case.
It’s the latest chapter in the legal saga that began when Kawananakoa was hospitalized a year ago, setting off a dispute over who has control of her trust.
For years, the Abigail K.K. Kawananakoa Foundation has funded Native Hawaiian history and culture projects and the foundation had expected to receive as much as $100 million when Kawananakoa, who is 92, dies.
Kawananakoa, a descendant of Hawaiian royalty who goes by the honorific “Princess,” is heir to the James Campbell Estate. Her wealth comes from a variety of sources, including her own real estate holdings, her horses and horse breeding and training facilities, and about 13 percent of the shares in the James Campbell Corp., the Kapolei-based commercial real estate enterprise.
She has been instrumental in preserving Iolani Palace, which was built in the late 19th century by her great-uncle, King David Kalakaua.
She’s long said that she wanted to leave much of her fortune to Native Hawaiians when she dies and in 2001 she set up a trust to do that.
When it was created, the trust documents stipulated that her then-attorney Jim Wright be offered the role of trustee if she became mentally incapacitated.
On June 18, 2017, Kawananakoa, was hospitalized for a stroke. Doctors told Wright the aging philanthropist should not be making important decisions on her own.
A month after the stroke, Wright notified Kawananakoa’s former bookkeeper, Betty Lou Stroup, who held Kawananakoa’s power of attorney, of his intentions to be approved as trustee by the court. Stroup joined Wright in that request.
Shortly after Stroup notified Kawananakoa about making Wright the trustee, he was fired by Kawananakoa. That set in motion sudden changes to who could control the trust.
Wright’s request to be made trustee was approved by Circuit Court Judge Mark Browning last July.
In the year since then, Kawananakoa got married to her longtime companion and made her wife, Veronica Gail Worth, a trustee along with Stroup and Warren Duryea, the princess’ longtime CPA. She also gave Worth power of attorney and the ability to amend who benefits from the trust.
Those actions have set off a flurry of legal questions over whether Kawananakoa had the mental capacity to not only handle her own finances post-stroke, but to make decisions about who is charge of the trust.
Kawananakoa and Worth have sought court approval of these changes to the trust and are suing to get Wright removed as trustee. A court-appointed master in the case has informed Browning that Kawananakoa is of a mental state to make changes for her trust.
But last month, the long-awaited report from a court-appointed psychiatrist who was hired to evaluate Kawananakoa’s mental state was filed. Although it is sealed, a copy was obtained by Civil Beat.
In it, Dr. David Trader of Los Angeles found Kawananakoa lacks “sufficient mental capacity” to understand her complex financial situation.
Trader interviewed Kawananakoa on four occasions between Jan. 26 and March 2. From the 15th floor of a downtown Honolulu office tower, Trader led what became contentious interviews with Kawananakoa, her Chihuahua “Puppy” seated in her lap.
Trader found Kawananakoa could not recall the name of her trust, was confused about whether she was ever a trustee and often complained about Trader’s questions or where he got his information. He concluded that Kawananakoa “lacks current capacity” to serve as a trustee of her trust. Her mental deficits, he wrote, “do not allow her to manage or direct the management of her Trust.”
At Thursday’s hearing, the judge is expected to hear formal arguments about whether the board members can come into the case and if they do, how to restructure the case schedule to allow them time to do their own research in the case.
The judge could also decide whether another appointed attorney is needed to look for any other possible parties to the case, before moving forward to address the trust changes and Kawanakoa’s competency.
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