Huge Claims Resolved in Davidson Estate
Another ingredient for guaranteed protracted probate litigation: last minute changes to your will.
Local billionaire Bill Davidson's estate had all of these characteristics. After his death in March 2009, Davidson's estate was estimated at well-over a billion dollars.
Davidson parlayed his fortune from Guardian Industries, a glass company, into a sports empire that once included world-champions Detroit Pistons and Detroit Shock, as well as the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team, and the Detroit Fury arena football team.
The estate and the $20 million claims filed against it, first denied but then eventually settled, are all on file with the Oakland County Probate Court. The terms of the settlement, however, are not.
Apparently, the problem arose when Davidson made changes to his 19-page will during the last week of his life. Those testamentary amendments broke-up Davidson's estate into three separate trusts and named his wife, a son and a daughter, all Bloomfield Hills residents, as the sole beneficiaries.
The probate litigants pitted Davidson's spouse and owner of the Detroit Pistons, Karen Davidson, against his son and daughter. The dispute involved claims against the estate filed by Milestones Upgrading & Industries Co., an Israeli company, and Big Ben Investments; companies with which Mr. Davidson had a long business-relationship.
The claims filed by Milestones and Big Ben alleged that Mr. Davidson made up to $20 million in investment pledges to the companies. Karen Davidson, listed as a manager for Big Ben, wanted her husband's estate to honor the pledges, saying they were consistent with Mr. Davidson's testamentary wishes.
In collateral "breach of contract" litigation assigned to Oakland Circuit Judge Nanci Grant, the corporate plaintiffs also privately settled the circuit court disputes via stipulated orders of dismissal in July.
While these large probate and circuit court disputes were being negotiated and resolved, you may recall rumors that Karen Davidson was shopping the Detroit Pistons for an interested purchaser. Fortunately, the Davidson Estate has enough money to resolve the expensive claims made against it and to apparently keep the Pistons right where they are; in the suburbs of the "D".