The woman at the center of the U.S.’s most expensive probate battle died this week in Poland. Barbara Piasecka Johnson was a maid who worked for J. Seward Johnson, Jr.’s family, of Johnson and Johnson renown. Within 2 years, then 76 year old Mr. Johnson divorced his second wife and married the then 34 year old servant. When Johnson died 12 years later, he omitted 5 of his 6 children from his will and left nearly all of his of $500 million to his wife. The children contested the will alleging undue influence and settled for $40 million.
1. Mr. Johnson could have provided for both his widow and his children by creating a QTIP trust (a new trust back in 1983) which would have provided assets remaining after his wife’s death would be distributed to his children.
2. Contesting a bequest to a maid on grounds of undue influence is easy. Contesting a bequest to a maid who has been married to the deceased for 12 years on similar grounds is nearly impossible.
3. Marrying someone younger than one’s children is rarely a good idea. It might be better to date her and leave her a condo and a Bentley in a will and preserve family relations.