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Heirs to Michelina's fortune dispute trust document

Heirs to the deceased founder of Michelina's frozen pizzas and several other well-known food brands are involved in a lawsuit in Florida involving his estate. In October of 2011, Jeno Paulucci, 93 years old and nearly blind, was hospitalized in the intensive-care unit of a Minnesota hospital. While there, he signed documents transferring the control of his $150 million estate from his Minnesota attorneys to two individuals in Florida, naming them co-trustees before dying seven weeks later. This has led to extensive probate litigation following Paulucci's death.

One of the individuals is State Senator David Simmons, who as an attorney had handled various legal matters for Paulucci over the course of 20 years. Two of Paulucci's children claim that Simmons and the other person took advantage of Paulucci while he was mentally incapacitated to get him to sign documents that would pay them millions of dollars in administration fees.

Simmons has maintained that he and the other person appointed as co-trustee were in Florida when the document was signed, and that it had been prepared by Paulucci's longtime Minneapolis attorneys. There are signed memoranda dating back to 2010 where Paulucci indicated that he wanted these two individuals to manage his trust. Simmons issued a statement that he is merely trying to honor the wishes of Paulucci and his wife, who died only days before him at the age of 89.

An estate planning attorney may be asked to provide assistance not only in the preparation of documents that will provide for the distribution of a client's estate, but in probate and trust administration matters following the death as well. In this case, it appears that the decedent frequently changed his mind regarding certain aspects of his estate, and it may well turn on a finding on whether he was competent when the document in question was signed.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, "Jeno Paulucci heirs fight over $150 million", Rene Stutzman, January 18, 2014

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