The trustee of Abigail Kawananakoa’s $215 million estate has asked a judge to appoint a guardian ad litem for the aging heiress because he believes she is not able to make sound decisions about her ongoing court battle.

“It is abundantly clear that (Kawananakoa) is unable to understand and appreciate the complexities of this proceeding,” wrote Jim Wright, the estate trustee, in his petition to Circuit Judge Mark Browning.

A guardian, Wright’s filing stated, would make sure all decisions the 92-year-old Kawananakoa has made since suffering a stroke over a year ago, were in her best interest.

Abigail Kawananakoa at Supreme Court. 27 aug 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The latest filing by Abigail Kawananakoa’s trustee and former attorney argues the heiress isn’t mentally capable of making sound decisions about the ongoing legal battle over her estate.. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

Three months ago, court-appointed psychiatrist Dr. David Trader found that Kawananakoa lacked “sufficient mental capacity” to understand her complex financial situation.

Wright’s latest filing argues that lack of capacity extends to other decision-making, including the hiring of her attorneys and whether she is directing the legal team or being coerced by it.

As proof Kawananakoa may not be in charge of her case, Wright’s petition says her legal team hired coaches, including a forensic psychiatrist, to prep her before her evaluation by Trader.

Kawananakoa’s attorney, Michael Lilly, declined to comment on Wright’s request, citing a court order not to comment on the case. A hearing on the guardian matter has been set for Nov. 8.

Wright, who has served as Kawananakoa’s long-time attorney, has been in a fight to remain as trustee of the philanthropist’s estate since she was hospitalized for a stroke in 2017.

Her original 2001 trust stipulated that Wright be made trustee if she became incapacitated. When he acted on the provision following the stroke, Kawananakoa fired Wright as her attorney and amended the trust to make her wife, Veronica Gail Worth, trustee over the estate.

Those moves kicked off a year-long court battle as Kawananakoa, Worth and their legal teams have been trying to get Wright formally removed as trustee.

Last month, the judge approved a new board of directors for the Kawananakoa Foundation as participants in the ongoing dispute. The foundation is anticipating that about half of Kawananakoa’s estate will go to it to spend on Native Hawaiian causes as promised.

Last month, Browning appointed a guardian in the case to search for other possible beneficiaries in the case. On Sept. 10, Browning is expected to decide whether Wright should remain as trustee.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

What stories will you help make possible?

Since 2010, Civil Beat’s reporting has painted a more complete picture of Hawaii — stories that you won’t find anywhere else.

Your donation, however big or small, will ensure that Civil Beat has the resources to provide you with thorough, unbiased reporting on the issues that matter most to Hawaii. We can’t do this without you.


About the Author