ESTATE OF ERNIE HARWELL, LONGTIME VOICE OF DETROIT TIGERS, EMBROILED IN BITTER LEGAL FEUD
Ernie Harwell was a beloved icon in the Detroit sports scene — and indeed, the entire major league baseball community — for decades. The former play-by-play announcer was the voice of the Detroit Tigers for 42 years, among his 55 years calling baseball games. His wife of nearly 70 years, Lulu Harwell, died at age 99 on March 1st of this year. Not long after her passing, the Detroit Free Press published an in-depth article detailing the terrible court fight over Harwell’s estate and trust.
The legal battle involved Harwell’s long-time lawyer and adviser, Gary Spicer, and the four children of Ernie and Lulu, who blamed each other for a sad reality. By the time Lulu died, all of the couple’s money was gone. She battled dementia for years before her passing and needed extensive care, but by the end, there was almost nothing left to support Lulu out of the many millions of dollars that Harwell had earned during his career.
Harwell Earned ~$3,000,000 in the Last Years of His Life
This is surprising considering that Ernie Harwell earned around three million dollars in the last six years of his life alone, which was after he retired. Some of Ernie and Lulu’s children blamed Spicer — who was appointed as conservator for Lulu in 2012 — for wasting Harwell’s money. Spicer says that the financial woes were because of the children. One of the two probate judges who handled the case agreed, establishing the conservatorship, at least in part, because of an allegation that Lulu suffered from “vulnerability to her children’s demands for money.”
In fact, the judge berated the children during a court hearing:
I’m going to tell you right now, and this is with no uncertainty, and every single Harwell child needs to listen up and listen good. The gravy train is absolutely over. You will not get one dime. I’m not allowing any gifts, payments or anything. Go get a job and take care of yourself.”
Spicer estimated the children received at least three million dollars from their parents over the years, in addition to incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees during the extended court battle. Another lawyer involved in the case said that this was a situation of “parents who just couldn’t say no to their children.”
Feud Started in 2010 After Harwell Died at Age 92
The feud started in 2010, just after Ernie Harwell died, at age 92. Based on Ernie’s revocable living trust, his wife was to serve as a co-trustee along with Spicer. But Lulu exercised her rights and removed Spicer as a co-trustee, and instead appointed another attorney to serve in that role. She also objected to Spicer serving as a co-personal representative of Ernie Harwell’s estate, contending among other things that he did not share information with her sufficiently.
This started a pair of legal proceedings, which resulted in a detailed settlement reached in 2011. The agreement spelled out how Lulu, Spicer, and the new attorney would administer Ernie’s trust and his estate, including a provision that limited Lulu’s ability to make gifts to the children, capping them at $20,000, each, per year.
The peace was short-lived, however, as the attorney filed new proceedings in 2012 that led to the conservatorship. Along with the concerns of Lulu’s children seeking money, the filing alleged that Lulu was unable to manage her property, at a time that she was believed to have dementia. This led to Spicer being re-appointed to manage the financial affairs, despite Lulu’s earlier efforts to remove him as a trustee.
Since then, the case has featured regular court appearances by the family, leading up to a disagreement over Lulu’s care in her final days. Reportedly, one or more of her children wanted Lulu moved to a less-expensive, Medicaid-eligible nursing home. Spicer refused, insisting that Lulu remain in the expensive senior condominium unit, supported by caregiving providers, so that she could live out her life in a familiar setting. Spicer was determined that Lulu have the best of care — so much so that he says that he spent more than $500,000 of his own personal funds to care for Lulu. This was to fulfill a death-bed promise to Ernie Harwell that Spicer would always care for Lulu until the day she died.
Unlike Spicer, the Harwell’s four children did not contribute financially to Lulu’s care. They blame Spicer for wastefully spending Lulu’s money, among other allegations.
Legal disputes that involve allegations of children being overindulged by wealthy parents is not unusual. We dive into several other cases and the relationship that the recent college admissions scandal and estate planning have, regarding privileged children. Check it out for our lessons to be learned to avoid similar pitfalls in your family or with your clients.
Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, television hosts and keynote speakers. You can find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Be sure to check out their new TV show, Fortune Fights, on the REELZ channel.
[photo credit: Wikipedia]