A judge on Thursday appointed an attorney to look for other possible beneficiaries to Abigail Kawananakoa’s $215 million trust before deciding the bigger issues of whether the 92-year-old heiress has the mental capacity to make substantial changes to it.
But Judge Mark Browning postponed making a decision on whether to include three new directors to her foundation in the ongoing battle about who controls the trust and who will benefit.
Browning appointed Randall Morikawa a guardian ad litem after hearing heated arguments against such a move by the attorneys for Kawananakoa and her wife, Veronica Gail Worth.
The 91-year-old Hawaiian heiress Abigail Kawananakoa, left, and her wife, Veronica Gail Worth, in a Honolulu courtroom earlier this year. A judge Thursday appointed an attorney to search for more beneficiaries to Kawananakoa’s $215 million trust.
“If you open it up, you could make a quagmire,” said Michael Lilly, the heiress’ attorney.
Lilly added that the latest delays in deciding whether Kawananakoa and her wife or Kawananakoa’s former lawyer and court-approved trustee Jim Wright are in control of the trust were nothing more than “an attempt to outlive” his client.
“I have an abiding respect for Miss Kawananakoa and people like her,” Browning said.
“I apologize for the delay. I do not wish to inconvenience her,” he added. “There is a process we have to follow and do it the right way.”
Browning held off making a final decision on whether to allow a newly formed board of directors for the Abigail K.K. Kawananakoa Foundation, the aging philanthropist’s main donation arm, to be included in the litigation over control of the trust.
Lilly told the court that Kawananakoa was appalled at the appointments without her input and claimed at least two of the directors – University of Hawaii Hawaiian Studies Professor Lilikala Kameeleihiwa and former Bishop Estate trustee Oswald Stender – were her enemies.
Stender, who was in the courtroom, said later he was surprised by those remarks. He declined to comment further.
Browning said he will put off making a decision about including the foundation’s directors for at least 50 days, taking the case into the fall, more than a year after it began.
Kawananakoa, who is a descendant of the Hawaiian royal family and 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 has also funded efforts to translate Hawaiian language newspapers and various educational efforts.
Kawananakoa has said for years 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.
But that was before she had a stroke on June 18, 2017.
In the year since, the question over whether she is in a mental state to make changes to her 2001 trust have been at the center of an ongoing battle. Her longtime attorney, Jim Wright, took over as trustee — as specified by Kawananakoa’s trust documents — after doctors claimed she was not able to make financial decisions.
As a result, Kawananakoa fired Wright and made her wife the trustee with powers to make amend the trust.
Attorneys for Kawananakoa and her wife have argued that the elderly philanthropist is of sound state to make any decision regarding her trust. They have sued to have Worth recognized as the rightful trustee in charge.
Last month, a court-appointed psychiatrist submitted a report that says Kawananakoa is not able to make important financial decisions. A court-appointed master in the case earlier said Kawananakoa was capable of making those decisions.
No court date has been set for the next hearing.
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