Litigation over Dick Jones Estate Settled

by Carlos Mondragon

On the morning of June 20th (1989), I carried out the most distasteful duty I have had to perform as president of Alcor: Standing before a judge, I voiced approval of the agreement described below and minutes later, signed my name to several copies of the document.

The events and circumstances which led up to this settlement are a messy weave of greed, deception, legal maneuvering, and judicial deficiency. A history of the case will be presented here beginning in the September issue (of CRYONICS magazine). Here, I intend only to describe the final result.

Just 56 hours before he was pronounced legally dead, Dick Jones signed a new will and an amendment to his existing trusts which had the effect of splitting his estate between Alcor and his family. The new documents also gave control of his cryonic suspension to Jenna McMahon, his business partner and the newly named trustee and executrix. Having seen him a few hours before these signatures were obtained, this layman's opinion is that Dick was as disoriented as any man can be while still conscious. Because he believed that the medical record plainly showed that Dick had no capacity to make decisions of any kind, Saul Kent — a successor trustee and executor under Dick's August 1987 estate plan — initiated legal action seeking to invalidate the new documents. Alcor did not participate in the litigation.

On May 8th, 1989 in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles, Judge Miriam Vogel delivered the coup de grace in a series of decisions overtly designed to force a settlement. Shortly thereafter, Alcor's Board of Directors met with our attorneys to establish the terms which we would would find acceptable.

Samuel Ingham, a specialist in estate and trust administration, and Carol Reichstetter, an estate litigator, had advised Alcor as we sat on the legal sidelines from December through early May. They would approach attorneys for the "family beneficiaries" (Dick's sister and his ten nieces and nephews) to hammer out a settlement. We made it very clear to them that any acceptable agreement would have to include a provision returning absolute control of Dick's cryonic suspension to Alcor. This point was NON- NEGOTIABLE! Insofar as economic issues were concerned, Carol and Sam were given broad latitude.

The last of the family beneficiaries (he lives in Japan) put his signature on the sixth and final draft of the settlement agreement on June 26th (actually June 27th in Tokyo). Key provisions of the settlement are as follows:

— Control of Dick's cryonic suspension is per the terms of Alcor's Cryonic Suspension Agreement, signed by Dick on February 11th, 1986.

— Alcor pays everybody's legal bills (about $650,000.00).

— The Jones estate will not participate in Roe vs. Mitchell, the lawsuit against the California Department of Health Services.

— With the exception of four items of personal property to be given to his sister, Alcor will receive all of the assets in existence at the time of Dick's deanimation. This includes his house, car, personal property, and roughly $400,000 in cash or cash equivalents.

— All future income earned by the estate will be divided equally between Alcor and the family beneficiaries as a group. This consists of about $850,000 annually through 1995. Thereafter, the existence of any income is speculative. (Since payments of $825,000 have been made to the estate so far this year, Alcor will receive half of that soon.)

— Estate taxes will be paid by the family beneficiaries. Should the legal fees prove not to be deductible, Alcor will pay any additional tax.

— Jenna McMahon is confirmed as trustee and executrix.

— The trust document was vastly modified in its administrative provisions, giving Alcor and the family beneficiaries nearly complete control over actions taken by the trustee, and reassigning power to select successor or cotrustees from Ms. McMahon to Alcor and the family.

Title to the house and personal property were transferred to Alcor on June 28th. The first cash payment has been received.

An obvious set of questions might be "why did we settle, why did we end up paying their legal bills, and why were the legal bills so high?" In other words, was it worth it?

To answer that question you first have to ask yourself "what's important?" To us, the answer to that question is: "Dick is." As was alluded to earlier, the bottom line in this litigation was return of control of Dick's cryonic suspension to Alcor. The new Will and Trust essentially voided the Alcor Cryonic Suspension Agreement and awarded custody of Dick and control of his cryonic suspension to Jenna McMahon. This would be unacceptable under any circumstances. But it is particularly instructive to note that in the seven months that have elapsed since Dick was placed into cryonic suspension our phone has yet to ring with the first call from either Jenna or his sister Claire Martin asking how Dick's suspension went or inquiring after his current status or his future safety (i.e., from state intervention). Ditto for written inquiries.

In fact, so deep has been Jenna's and Claire's concern for Dick's continued suspension that they pulled the estate out of litigation against the California Department of Health Services to establish the legality of Dick's cryonic suspension and assure its continuation.

This situation left little alternative but to fight the good fight. We were fortunate that Dick's 1987 Trustee and Executor, Saul Kent, had both the willingness and the resources to wage such a fight. Our thanks to Saul for his courage and pugnacity in the face of a tough and unpleasant situation.

The bottom line is that we have control of Dick's suspension free from the interference of uncaring and even hostile outsiders.

Our attorneys tell me that the best settlements are those that leave everyone somewhat unhappy. Certainly this is the case here. Our CPA said it better, "It's better than a poke in the eye!"

(SEE ALSO: How Relatives Stole $Millions From Dick Jones)

SOURCE: CRYONICS magazine July 1989, page 3-6