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Home / News / Judge favors widow in real estate magnate’s will dispute

Judge favors widow in real estate magnate’s will dispute

A St. Louis County judge upheld a version of real estate magnate Robert Kaplan’s trust that left tens of millions of dollars in assets to his widow.

In a Thursday judgment, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Carolyn Whittington said that three of the four last changes to Kaplan’s trust were the result of “tough negotiation” and not wife Christine Murray-Kaplan’s “undue influence” as Kaplan’s children had claimed. The changes left an increasing amount of Kaplan’s estate to Murray-Kaplan instead of to his adult children.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that Murray-Kaplan, who was 21 years younger than her husband, isolated him from his children and grandchildren and tried to “break Bob’s spirit,” including by restricting him to a guest house instead of the couple’s Ladue mansion when he was ailing.

Kaplan died in April 2013 at the age of 77.

Evidence showed Murray-Kaplan did yell, threaten divorce, alienate him from his children and sometimes relentlessly pressure Kaplan to amend his trust, Whittington wrote, but Kaplan was no pushover.

“In terms of yelling and difficult behavior, Robert Kaplan gave as good as he got,” she wrote.

Under the last of those three changes, Murray-Kaplan gets $12 million outright, all of the stock in a company called National Hospice Inc., investment properties, her Ladue home and its contents, and the building that houses Kaplan Real Estate Co., said Bob Blitz, an attorney with Blitz, Bardgett & Deutsch who represents Murray-Kaplan. The total value is around $40 million, Blitz said.

All the facets of the case pointed in the same direction, said defense attorney Christopher Bauman. Kelley Farrell also represented Murray-Kaplan.

“Bob Kaplan, when he decided what to do for his wife in the 12th, 13th and 14th amendments knew exactly what he was doing and it was what he wanted,” Bauman said.

The judge found the final amendment, the 15th, was the result of Murray-Kaplan’s undue influence, however, and was invalid. That amendment gave Murray-Kaplan immediate access to “the entire principal of the Marital Trust,” according to the lawsuit filed by Michael Kaplan, one of Kaplan’s three adult children. Kaplan’s other children are Julie Salomon and Elizabeth Wright.

The marital trust is essentially a trust within the trust, Bauman said.

“After execution of the 14th Amendment there is no evidence of the presence of Robert Kaplan’s formidable and strong will responding in any fashion to the pressure of Ms. Murray-Kaplan,” Whittington wrote.

Income from the assets is for the benefit of Christine Murray-Kaplan during her lifetime, said Catherine Hanaway, an attorney representing Michael Kaplan.

“We are pleased that the judge invalidated the 15th amendment and restored the properties to the trust and that those properties ultimately will go to the Kaplan children,” Hanaway said.

Kaplan’s St. Louis company, started in 1959, is a commercial brokerage, property manager and development firm with clients including Walgreens and other retail and restaurant chains.

“We continue to believe that undue influence was exerted,” when the earlier amendments were made, said Hanaway, a Husch Blackwell partner.

Michael Kaplan hasn’t decided whether to take further action, she said.

One of the provisions of the trust under the 14th amendment change says that anyone who contests its terms would forfeit his share in it. The judge’s order didn’t address that provision and it wasn’t clear if Michael Kaplan would lose his portion of the $5 million set aside for the three adult children.

A St. Louis County jury in March, after a three-week trial, confirmed the move of the stock ownership of Kaplan Real Estate Co. Inc. back into Kaplan’s estate from Murray-Kaplan’s control. Whittington’s judgment also reflected that verdict.

The case is In the matter of The Robert Kaplan Trust, Michael Kaplan et al. v. Christine Murray-Kaplan et al., 13SL-PR02110.