Howard Hughes Estate Settled… After 34 Years

The impossible has happened. No, the federal government hasn’t done away with all death taxes. No, ice cream is not free. No, it’s more astounding than that. Howard Hughes, who died in 1976, will finally have his estate settled and closed. And it only took 34 years!

Howard Hughes, the eccentric aviator, engineer, and film producer, died on April 5, 1976 without even a Will, and as a consequence he died “intestate,” meaning state law determined that his estate was divided among 11 cousins. However, the litigation over Hughes estate dragged on for decades. The final estate item being settled is the $230 million payout to the estate beneficiaries for their interest in a Las Vegas residential project called Summerlin. The payout will come from General Growth Properties, Inc., a company in bankruptcy. That is the last asset of the Hughes estate, and it will end up closing out the estate. The only hurdle left is the Bankruptcy Judge approving the settlement. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704416904575502292011174892.html).

The estate has dragged on for decades, but it has been nothing if not colorful. Some of the more interesting items associated with Howard Hughes were:

  • A man who allegedly found a disheveled and dirty Hughes on a highway in Nevada in December of 1967 gave him a ride to the Sands Hotel. Days after Hughes death, a handwritten Will was supposedly delivered to the charitable driver giving him $156 million. The litigation lasted seven months before the court declared in 1978 that the Will was a forgery.
  • In 1984, a woman named Terry Moore came forth alleging that she and Hughes were married on a yacht in international waters off the coast of Mexico in 1949, and they were never divorced, so she was owed a large portion of the Hughes estate. She was paid an undisclosed amount of money to drop her suit even though she never produced any actual proof of the marriage. She eventually wrote a book called Beauty and the Billionaire which became a best-seller.
  • In the last years of Hughes life, he was so concerned about the effects of nuclear tests that he offered both Presidents Johnson and Nixon $1 million to stop the tests.

It was interesting enough back in law school for me to read that the Howard Hughes estate was still going on, how it was absolutely absurd that the estate had been going on for 17 years (then), and how the estate would continue for so long as there were assets that the probate attorneys and tax agencies could pilfer. Well, in 2010, more than 34 years after Howard Hughes died, it appears that having the sole assets being real estate involved in bankruptcy was enough for the lawyers and taxing agencies to let go of the estate.

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