What We Can Learn from the Dispute over Paul Newman’s Estate

Category: Estate Planning

What We Can Learn from the Dispute over Paul Newman's Estate

Wander down the aisle of your local supermarket, and you’re sure to spot Paul Newman’s face. He’s smiling out from the labels of salad dressings and sauces, from boxes of popcorn and cartons of lemonade.

Paul Newman is the face and co-founder of Newman’s Own—a specialty foods company renowned for giving all of its profits to the Newman’s Own Foundation, a foundation created to support educational and charitable organizations around the world.

Paul Newman was already a famous Hollywood heartthrob when he started the company, beloved for movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Hustler. The renowned actor began bottling homemade salad dressing along with his friend A.E. Hotchner to give to his neighbors as holiday gifts when they went caroling.

The neighbors loved it so much that Mr. Newman and Mr. Hotchner agreed to begin selling it to local grocery stores. Soon, they began producing pasta sauces, lemonade, popcorn, salsa, and other products. The profits of Newman’s Own went to charities like the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, Safe Water Network, and the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps—summer camps for seriously ill children co-founded by Paul Newman himself.

Today, Newman’s Own has raised more than 400 million for charity since Mr. Newman first started the company in 1982. Though Mr. Newman passed away in 2008, the Newman’s Own Foundation continues to fund charities in four main areas, including children with disabilities, empowerment, nutrition, and promoting philanthropy.

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The company and its foundation are managed by Robert H. Forrester, Mr. Newman’s former friend and financial consultant. Under Mr. Forrester’s management, Newman’s Own continues to be an international force in supporting charitable works. However, a recent article from Vanity Fair pointed out that many of Mr. Newman’s family and friends feel that their beloved father figure’s foundation is being mismanaged.

According to Paul Newman’s eldest daughter, former actress Susan Kendall Newman, the family was shocked when their father’s estate plan was revealed. Though Mr. Newman had reportedly promised his daughters a place on the Newman’s Own Foundation Board, the will assigned control of the foundation and company to almost exclusively to Bob Forrester, according to Susan. And instead of leaving each of his daughters with the millions that had been promised for their personal foundations, the will left 50 percent of Newman’s residual estate to his wife’s marital trust.

“We had the rug pulled out from under us,” Susan told reporters from Vanity Fair.

It is suspected that Mr. Newman made the majority of the unexpected changes to his estate plan during his final weeks, when he was struggling with memory loss, pain, and stress caused by leukemia.

The Importance of Communication in Estate Planning

The Newman family’s experience reiterates the importance of open and honest communication in estate planning. Paul Newman’s failure to fully communicate his dying intentions to his surviving family ended up leaving them with a lot of doubt, frustration, and disappointment.

Regardless of the size of your estate or the complexity of your plans, it’s important to have upfront conversations with your family and loved ones about your plans for after death. The estate planning conversation should be an open-ended discussion, and one that should be revisited every single time you alter or update your plan. By keeping your family in the know, you can avoid leaving them with undue conflict, stress, and hurt feelings. Through effective communication, you can ensure your wishes are honored and your survivors are cared for.

Tips for Talking with Your Family about Your Estate Plan

Tips for Talking with Your Family about Your Estate Plan

Ready to start the discussion? The estate planning talk can be a difficult one to have, so we’ve provided some tips to guide you through the conversation with sensitivity and clarity.

  1. Plan out what you want to communicate in advance.
  2. Start the conversation in a safe place, during a period of relative peace.
  3. Remain positive and sincere about your wishes.
  4. Open the floor to family members to express concerns, questions, and opinions.
  5. Discourage conflict and emotional arguments.
  6. Remind your family that it’s an ongoing conversation, and you may make adjustments to your plan as needs and circumstances change.

When discussing estate planning issues with family and loved ones, it’s typically a good idea to bring in an estate planning attorney to facilitate the discussion. A seasoned Florida estate planning lawyer can help mediate and guide the conversation, answering questions as they arise and helping you keep conflict to a minimum.

About the Author:

Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011 and 2012 in Estate and Trust Litigation.