Agreement Reached in Johnson Will Case
NEW YORK (AP) _ A settlement was announced Monday in the battle over the $500 million estate of J. Seward Johnson Sr., a fight that involved the drug company heir’s widow, his six children and the oceanographic institute he founded.
The settlement was announced as jurors who had sat through a 16-week trial waited at Manhattan Surrogate Court to learn whether they would be called on to decide the validity of Johnson’s last will.
Johnson’s third wife, Barbara Piasecka Johnson, was virtually the sole beneficiary of the contested will.
Mrs. Johnson had said early in the trial she would never give the children a dime.
″I changed my mind,″ she said Monday. ″Peace is better than prolonged litigation.″
Under the settlement, about $160 million will go to Johnson’s children and the oceanographic institute, Harbor Branch. About $80 million of that money will go to the government for taxes, with the children’s lawyers receiving about $10 million.
Mrs. Johnson keeps more than $300 million, according to Marvin Schwartz, one of her lawyers. She has been living on a $9 million trust since the trial tied up her other assets, and also has a $20 million, 140-acre estate in Princeton, N.J., filled with millions of dollars in art and antiques.
Johnson’s four daughters and two sons from two previous marriages receive a total of $42.5 million, plus another $7 million for J. Seward Johnson Jr. as an executor of his father’s will.
Harbor Branch, the oceanographic institute Johnson founded and funded in 1971, gets $20 million cash.
Harvey Korn, law assistant to Surrogate Marie Lambert, said the 32-page agreement was reached Monday morning. He said the stumbling block to completing the settlement over the weekend had been the tax liability that Johnson’s children would face after receiving money in the settlement.
Korn said Mrs. Lambert would sign an order approving the details of the agreement.
Johnson Jr., 56, said of the result, ″The family had a commitment. A job had to be done. It was done well.″
Johnson Sr. was 87 when he died of prostate cancer May 23, 1983, at his Fort Pierce, Fla., home, leaving nearly his entire fortune to Mrs. Johnson, his former chambermaid.
Johnson had cut his children out of about 30 wills and codicils starting in the mid-1960s. He said he was disinheriting them ″not for any lack of affection for them,″ but because he established huge trusts for them in 1944.
The children charged that the will was a fraud and that Mrs. Johnson was a money-hungry shrew who had terrorized a sick, senile, old man into leaving her all his money.
The children, who have fortunes of their own ranging from about $23 million to more than $100 million, went to court to break the will.