Leonard Cohen, the prolific songwriter, singer and poet, died November 7, 2016 at age 82. His well-known songs include Marianne, I’m Your Man, and the iconic Hallelujah. Cohen once said that he turned to songwriting just to pay the bills, but he did far more than that: He accumulated a $48 million fortune. Control of that fortune is now the focus of a legal battle.
In 2005 Cohen signed the Leonard Cohen Family Trust, naming Robert Kory as successor trustee, a job Kory still holds today. Cohen’s adult children, Lorca and Adam, want him removed, claiming he fraudulently gained control of the estate. According to the children, their father changed his mind about Kory after he signed the 2005 trust, creating a new trust that removed Kory and named Lorca, Adam, and Cohen’s longtime musical collaborator Anjani Thomas as co-trustees. Their bombshell allegation: Following Cohen’s death, Kory replaced the page naming Adam, Lorca and Thomas as co-trustees with the page that had named Kory as trustee. In the petition filed with the Los Angeles court the children state: “The one and only true version of the Trust appoints Adam, Lorca and Anjani Thomas.”
Kory denies making the switch. He argues that any irregularity Lorca and Adam see in the trust document is a simple “scrivener’s error.” Indeed, Kory’s claim to be the legitimate trustee is supported by Cohen’s former lawyer, Reeve Chudd. According to Chudd, Cohen told him that he had lost confidence in Lorca and Adam’s ability to handle his estate, and in 2016 directed Chudd to remove his children as trustees and replace them with Kory. Chudd writes: “…Mr. Cohen instructed me to change the successor trustee to Mr. Kory. He was concerned that his children didn’t have a sufficiently comfortable relationship to work together upon the complexities of the artist’s estate…While Mr. Cohen didn’t wish for this change in succession of trusteeship to be revealed to his children, Mr. Kory insisted, and this was explained to Adam and Lorca at a meeting in September 2015.”
Cohen’s children further claim that Kory has mishandled the estate, and failed to provide them with status updates. Kory has responded by saying he provides the children with monthly accountings. He also sees to it that both Lorca and Adam receive their $400,000 annual salary, in addition to revenue from royalties as a result of the tax planning Kory did for the estate.
How sad that Cohen’s beautiful musical legacy is associated with an ugly legal fracas. As is usual in estate contests, there are competing narratives. It will be up to the court to determine which narrative prevails.
Careful planning can decrease the chances that your beneficiaries and the administrator of your estate plan come into conflict. If you are ready to get started on your own plan, or are thinking about changing your existing plan, contact The Karp Law Firm at (561) 625-1100 to schedule a consultation with our attorneys.