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Tony Bennett and his kids Matthew Eisman/Getty Images News/Getty Images
(L-R): ) Danny Bennett, Antonia Bennet, Tony Bennett, Dae Bennett and Joanna Bennett in 2016.

Tony Bennett’s Children Embroiled in Lawsuit Over His Estate

His two daughters accuse their brother of mishandling their late father’s assets

The two daughters of the late Grammy-award-winning singer Tony Bennett, Antonia and Johanna Bennett, are suing their brother over their father’s estate. In his capacity as trustee of Tony’s estate, Danny Bennett is being accused of withholding information about Tony’s assets and failing to account for sales of his music catalog and image rights proceeds. The two sisters are seeking equitable relief and a full accounting of all property and assets of the estate and trust.

According to the family trust, on Tony’s death, all tangible personal property is to be distributed equally among his four children (Danny and his brother Daegal are Tony’s sons from his first marriage). Danny, the eldest of the four, was named trustee of Tony’s trust and served as his longtime manager. Daegal and Tony’s widow, Susan Benedetto, were also named in the lawsuit.

Shady Business?

In addition to personal assets and real estate, an artist of Bennett’s caliber usually leaves behind other valuable assets such as music catalogs and image and likeness rights. Rolling Stone reports that the lawsuit states that while earnings from live performances alone during the final 15 years of their father’s career were more than $100 million, the sisters were told that Tony’s estate was valued at less than $7 million. The complaint alleges that “[a]lthough Danny and his counsel have provided piecemeal information and produced some documents to petitioners’ counsel, the information provided raises more questions than answers and fails to provide anything close to an accounting of Tony’s assets and financial affairs.” It further alleges that Danny personally benefitted from the estate, including the sale of memorabilia.

Is an Independent Trustee the Solution?

Although it’s common to appoint a family member as trustee, the Bennett lawsuit raises the question of whether an independent trustee is sometimes a better option to avoid family drama and discord. “It’s not unusual to name one child in succession to act as the trustee during the administration period. But it’s almost always a bad idea to name one child as the ongoing trustee for another child, or children, once the period of administration is over,” opined Neil Solarz, shareholder/director at Weinstock Manion. “Given the dynamics and the existence of this lawsuit, there’s a high likelihood a judge will mandate an independent trustee, whether it’s a private fiduciary or a corporate trustee, as a viable solution,” he added.

Solarz also explained that following an accounting of the late crooner’s estate, if the accounting is “egregious enough” or there’s an indication that, for example, Danny may have acted in bad faith, mismanaged assets or unjustly enriched himself, his daughters may file a petition to have their brother removed as trustee (assuming they haven’t already done so).

“This lawsuit is a prime example of issues we frequently encounter in probate trust litigation. One child is chosen as trustee for their financial acumen or perceived skill at handling a complex process. However, this often leads to envy or discord among family members and, subsequently, legal action,” said Solarz. “If one child is the ongoing trustee, it can create an overwhelming amount of tension between siblings, as the remaining siblings may find it demeaning to have to seek their brother or sister’s permission to access their own trust going forward.”

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