Connecticut Supreme Court Settles a Dispute Among Heirs

(Hartford Courant) - The state Supreme Court has settled a dispute over money among the heirs to a multibillion dollar baking powder fortune that threatened an enormous charitable donation intended to fund research for the benefit of quadriplegics.

The dispute was among the six great grandchildren of William Ziegler, a one-time pharmacy clerk whose turn of the century consolidation of baking powder factories has grown into what Forbes Magazine estimated in 2015 is a $2.8 billion financial engine divided mostly between the international cigar distributor Swisher, Inc. and what the court describes as a substantial investment portfolio.

The six inherited equal shares of the family’s Darien-based businesses through an array of trusts created by their father, William Ziegler III. The disagreement ensued after one of the siblings, Peter Ziegler, suffered a tragic accident at age 58 at his Darien home in 2015, severing his spinal cord in a fall and becoming paralyzed below the neck.

After the accident, Peter Ziegler created a will that dictated the sale of his share of the family fortune and directed it to a trust of his own creation, Peter’s Yellow Submarine Trust, the mission of which was to assist other quadriplegics with housing and assistive devices, pay for caregivers and fund research.

Four of Peter’s siblings supported his instructions. A sister, Helen Z. Benjamin, opposed it, leading to years of pricey litigation involving two dozen litigants.

In a decision released Monday the state Supreme Court rejected Benjamin’s challenge, allowing the sale of Peter Ziegler’s fortune to proceed.

None of the participants or their lawyers would discuss the case. Little became public about the wealth of the individual siblings. But when they collaborated in 2018 to sell the family home — a 1905 estate on a 63-acre island off Darien, with boathouses and an equestrian center — they asked $125 million. The home was a base of operations for the original William Ziegler, known as a yachtsman and for organizing Arctic expeditions.

Legal papers indicate that the siblings held equal shares in the business and the value of Peter Ziegler’s portion was about $184 million. For him to make his charitable bequest, his siblings had to combine to buy his share. The sale went through, but with the caveat that, if Benjamin prevailed in the litigation, Peter Ziegler’s bequest to the Yellow Submarine Trust would revert to the family business.

Benjamin challenged Peter Ziegler’s right under the trusts to make his bequest. The Supreme Court rejected her argument.

By Edmund H. Mahony | Hartford Courant
February 26, 2024


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