Legal Law

The Trumps: An Ongoing Research In Trusts And Estates Litigation


(Photo by Evan Vucci-Pool/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s health is on our country’s collective mind as he has been afflicted with the COVID-19 virus. Despite what we see in the media, the Commander in Chief is not immune to the same fears and concerns that have plagued each and every one of us during this deadly pandemic. Life, death, incapacity, these are all issues that individuals  have been struggling with since the epidemic emerged last March. COVID-19 has prompted people to consider their own mortality and, as a result, review or commence their estate plan whether it means writing a last will and testament, or making a power of attorney or health care proxy. This also entails business transactions like purchasing life insurance and other financial products to provide for loved ones in addition to planning burials and cremations and talking with family members about last wishes.

Trump, by way of his hospital car ride and quick return to the White House only days after his diagnosis, seems to have chosen to focus on strength and resistance. These assertions, however, do not obviate the need for proper planning, contemplation, and sensitivity for the times when tragedy strikes, when medicines do not work and when our bodies finally fail. In many ways it is during the strong periods in our lives, during our victories from illness (if we are so lucky to have them) that we should consider and plan for the worst.

A last will and testament is not made public until it is filed in the Court upon death. It is possible that a last will and testament not need to be filed if assets are held jointly, with named beneficiaries or in a trust. We do not definitively know whether Trump has taken the initiative to write a last will and testament or other testamentary vehicle, although the Trump family’s history of estate litigation would suggest that he should.

In 2001, Trump was involved in Queens County, State of New York, litigation regarding the last will and testament of his father, Fred C. Trump who died in 1999. Grandchildren Mary L. Trump and Fred Trump III, the children of Fred Trump, Jr., who predeceased his father at the age of 42, filed objections to Fred C. Trump’s last will and testament. Robert L. Trump, the President’s brother who died in August 2020, was the proponent of the last will and testament. One of the issues raised in the lawsuit was that the grandchildren were not appropriately included in the disposition of the $20 million estate and various business interests. This is an issue that arises often in estate matters, when a child dies before his parent, leaving his own children to stand in his place as beneficiaries of the grandparent’s estate. Allegations of undue influence were asserted and eventually a settlement among seven relatives was reached.

The case, however, did not end there as the family was back in Court last summer when Robert Trump tried to prevent his niece from publishing her  tell-all book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, which details matters related to President Trump and the Trump family. An injunction was demanded citing the Surrogate’s Court settlement agreement which included a confidentiality agreement. It was plead that the only exception to such a confidentiality agreement would be if the parties to the settlement agreement agreed. The matter made its way to the appellate court wherein the book was released, but it did not address whether the confidentiality agreement was violated. And still, following the book release, Mary L. Trump filed a lawsuit against the President, his sister,  and the deceased brother’s estate, seeking unspecified damages, claiming that she was cheated out of her proper share of the estate and business.

Besides his extended family, for which he has been embroiled in various cases, Trump has five children and two ex-wives. One child, Barron Trump, is a minor. He also has a spouse, Melania Trump. Although the President may not want to focus on sickness and death at this time, his family history and composition, suggest that we all use this time to take care of our  personal and estate plans.

Cori A. Robinson is a solo practitioner having founded Cori A. Robinson PLLC, a New York and New Jersey law firm, in 2017. For more than a decade Cori has focused her law practice on trusts and estates and elder law including estate and Medicaid planning, probate attorney and administration, estate litigation, and guardianships. She can be reached at [email protected].

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