HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Six nieces and nephews of the late conservative columnist William F. Buckley Jr. lost a legal bid Monday to get a bigger piece of the family’s fortune in oil, gas and mineral interests.
The Connecticut Appellate Court, the state’s second-highest court, ruled there was nothing wrong in the distribution of trust funds left behind by Aloise Buckley Heath of West Hartford after her death in 1967 from a cerebral hemorrhage. She was a sister of the late columnist and a writer herself, contributing regularly to magazines including National Review, which was founded by her brother.
Six of Heath’s 10 children sued their father, Benjamin W. Heath, in 2009, saying he shouldn’t have received 54 percent of their mother’s portion of the Buckley family’s trust fund and accusing him of theft and misappropriation. The children say they should have received all the inheritance under the terms of the trust fund, not the terms of their mother’s will.
A two-day trial was held before Judge Trial Referee Joseph Q. Koletsky, who ruled in favor of Benjamin Heath in June 2012, two months before his death at the age of 98. Heath’s second wife, Maria Heath, then became the main defendant.
The six Heath children appealed to the Appellate Court, which upheld Koletsky’s ruling.
Richard Weinstein, a lawyer for the Heath children, said he plans to ask the Appellate Court for a clarification of its ruling before deciding whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court. He declined to further comment on the ruling, but said the case isn’t about the rich seeking to get richer.
“My clients, believe me, have little or nothing. These are children with very, very modest assets,” Weinstein said. “The issue is whether or not there had ever been a judicial interpretation … of the trust and the provision of the trust.”
Messages seeking comment were left for some of the six plaintiffs Monday, while phone numbers for others couldn’t be found.
Weinstein said it’s not clear how much money remains in the trust fund, known as the Hembdt Trust. But he said the assets have “dwindled considerably.” John Q. Gale, a lawyer for Benjamin and Maria Heath, also didn’t know the value of the trust, but said it could be in the millions of dollars.
“Without the amount of money involved, nobody would have gotten involved in this case,” Gale said.
The Hembdt Trust was set up in 1953 by William F. Buckley Sr. and numerous business partners to receive profits from their oil, gas and mineral interests in Canada and elsewhere. The trust also included Buckley’s 10 children, including Aloise Buckley Heath and William F. Buckley Jr.
The legal dispute began, Weinstein and Gale said, when the Heath children, who were born between 1945 and 1959, discovered that their father’s will left his share of the Hembdt Trust assets to his wife, Maria Heath. The couple had been married for four decades and lived in Newport Beach, Calif.
The children then sued their father. They said that under the terms of the Hembdt Trust, Aloise Buckley Heath’s assets were to go to her children upon her death. But Gale argued the assets were correctly disbursed under the terms of Aloise Buckley Heath’s will, which left about half for her husband and half for her children.
Koletsky and the Appellate Court ruled the will, not the trust, was the prevailing document.
“It appears that at least some of these children, six out of the 10, had an expectation that they would inherit (the fund assets) instead of their stepmother,” Gale said. “I frankly thought that the plaintiffs had an imaginative argument here, but obviously it carried enough weight that we had to try the case.”
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